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CHAPTER 8: I’M NOT YOUR STEPPING STONE
On the Monday after Aileen’s birthday, it was announced that the school board’s investigation was closed. Just as Colin had feared, based on Mr. Miller’s report sighting no evidence of foul play, the school board saw no need to keep the investigation going.
With Mr. Miller no longer coming to the school and having his questioning sessions, things were starting to get back to normal, but not completely. Coach Fletcher was given a reprimand for causing such a commotion based on the soundless theory of one student (i.e. Colin). The coach was ordered to immediately reinstate all those players he had suspended. The coach was also told that they should be put back in the positions they rightfully deserved.
Colin’s captaincy of the team was short lived as Seth reclaimed it. Colin thought about just throwing in the towel and quitting the team again but then he thought better of it. He wasn’t going down that road again. Seth could play his game all he wanted but Colin was not going to be one of the game pieces.
So it wasn’t Colin that quit the team, but in the aftermath of the investigation another person did decide he had enough. It was shortly after the investigation ended that Coach Fletcher put in his resignation saying this would be his last year coaching basketball at Liberty High. He announced it to the team at practice on Tuesday. A strong wave of guilt washed over Colin for the coach’s resignation and he knew he had to go talk to Coach Fletcher.
* * *
Colin arrived early for practice on Wednesday and went to see the coach in his office. The door was open and the coach was sitting at his desk looking over some papers, Colin knocked on the open door. “You have a minute Coach?”
Coach Fletcher looked up from his desk and waved Colin off. “Not now, Martin,” he said gruffly.
“Please Coach, I need to get this out or it will eat me up inside,” Colin said.
Coach Fletcher sighed and motioned for Colin to come in and sit down. “What is it that you need to say Martin? If you want to quit the team again I won’t blame you,” he said.
Colin came into the office and sat in the one empty chair in front of the coach’s desk. “It’s not that sir,” he said. “I made a commitment to the team and I’m not going to let you down. What I am here about is your resigning from the team. It’s all my fault Coach and you shouldn’t take any blame or responsibility for any of this. I’m fully prepared to take whatever reprimand is deemed appropriate for starting all this.”
“Martin, close the door,” Coach Fletcher said. Once the door was closed Coach Fletcher looked at Colin and he was shocked to find instead of the intimidating stare, the coach had a look of melancholy sincerity on his face. “Colin, I know damn well those boys were throwing games,” the coach said, “anyone who paid close enough attention could see it. I was all ready taking steps to bring this matter up with Dr. Grant or even the school board if I had to, I just needed to be completely sure that what I thought was going on really was. It was the game against Saint Mathew’s that finally had me convinced. When you came forward with your suspicions about the way certain players were playing I had hoped maybe other players would come forward as well, but that was wishful thinking.
“The investigation was a joke.” Coach Fletcher lowered his head in a sorrowful manner. “You’re awfully young to have to learn about how much injustice there is in the world, but I learned when I was even younger. Right now you are struggling against an injustice because of who you are. I’ve had to struggle all my life against injustices, not only because of who I am but what I am. I’m a black man living in a world where there are still people who judge me and discriminate against me only because of the color of my skin.
“For some people the road of life is harder than it is for others, it’s just the way things are. That can make some of us bitter and unmotivated, for others it just makes us try harder. I’ve always been a fighter; there are narrow minded people out there that think less of me because I’m a black man, so I’ve had to fight harder than others to prove I deserved whatever I was fighting for. It’s not fair, but…there you have it.
“I have always been of the mindset that the harder I tried and the further I got in life the easier it would be for the next generation. I felt I owed that to the generation that came before and paved the way for me and others to come this far. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one.
“But I’m tired now and feel my time here is done. I didn’t spend half a lifetime getting to where I am in life halkalı escort to be dictated to by an eighteen-year-old kid who thinks he owns the school just because of the people he knows. I’ve gotten to a place where I have to choose my battles, and I don’t want this one.”
“But what are you going to do now Coach?” Colin asked.
“I may be tired, but I’m not finished. There are other places for me out there, other teams to coach. I can still make a difference somewhere, still pave the road a little smother for the next generation, but I think I’ve worn out my welcome here,” Coach Fletcher said.
“Coach,” Colin said feeling surprisingly emotional, “I just want you to know how much I respect you and that you have made a difference in my life. One thing I’m thankful for is that I got to have you for my coach through my senior year. If you have to leave, at least I’ll be leaving too. I’ve learned a lot from you Coach, not only about basketball but about life. I’ve had two men in my life who were father figures and both have let me down, if I could have chosen my father, I would have chosen someone like you.”
Coach Fletcher removed his horn rimmed glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose between his eyes; if Colin didn’t know better he would have sworn he saw moisture there. For a man who claimed he didn’t have a heart, he sure seemed to be showing one now. “You’re a good kid Martin,” the coach said. “I was worried about you for a while there but you’ve shown me that you’ve grown into a respectable man. I’m proud of you. I’m glad that I have you on the team my last year here.”
“The feeling is mutual sir,” Colin said, his voice cracking a little.
“Now get out of here before you’re late for practice and I have to make you run extra laps in the gym.” Coach Fletcher said.
Colin got up and left.
* * *
On the way to the locker room Colin met up with Brian Chaplin and William Grey. “Did you speak to the coach?” Brian asked as they walked on.
“Yes,” Colin said.
“What he say, is he still resigning?” Brian queried.
“Yes, there’s no talking him out of it,” Colin said.
“We should have come forward, backed you guys up,” William said.
“Yes, you should have,” Colin agreed.
“Come forward with what?” Brian asked. “We had no proof of any foul play. If Seth heard we spoke out against him we would be royally screwed. Not all of us are related to him,” Brian said glancing meaningfully at Colin.
Colin stopped and stuck his hand out flat against Brian’s chest halting him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Colin asked.
“You know exactly what it means, not all of us can stand up to Seth and get away with it because we’re his cousin,” Brian said caustically.
Colin shoved Brian up against a locker and there was a loud “Clang!” His forearm pressed up against Brian’s neck placing pressure on his windpipe. “If you think I get special treatment from Seth because I’m his cousin; well, you’re right,” Colin said irately. “I’ve taken more shit from him all my life than any of you. I’m his special project. Seth’s mission in life is to make me miserable. I stand up to him because I have to! If I didn’t he would be walking over me all my life. If you want to trade places with me I’d be more than happy to. Is that what you want?”
“Colin, quit it!” William said. “We know what he’s done to you, we know you don’t get off easy cause you’re his cousin. Don’t we Brian?” Brian nodded as best he could with Colin’s arm under his neck.
Colin saw what he was doing and released Brian. He hated himself for letting his anger get the best of him, but after all the grief Seth had caused him, what Brian said hurt. He walked away from the both of them.
“Colin!” Brian rasped then took a couple breaths before trying again, “Colin, wait up!” Brian and William caught up with Colin.
“Look man, I’m sorry,” Brian said. “I got upset because it’s true what William said, we should have come forward, but I just couldn’t do it. I’m mad at myself for being a coward and letting you and the coach down. I took it out on you because you were the only one of us to stand up to Seth. I tried to make myself feel better by coming up with an excuse for why you had the guts to do that and I didn’t, I’m sorry. We still friends?”
Colin looked at Brian a moment then said, “Yeah we’re still friends.” Brian held out his hand and Colin grasped it and they did one of those handshake hugs that guys do where they shake with one hand and slap each other on the back with a closed fist with the other hand.
“So we just have to put up with Seth’s shit for a taksim escort few more months and then he’s out of here,” William said. William was only a junior and would be back at Liberty for his senior year next year.
“If you think Seth’s graduating will loosen his control on things here you’re mistaken,” Colin said. “He’s just going to get more power and influence over the school, the neighborhood, the entire city as time goes on. Who knows how far he’ll go if no one stops him? Unless he ends up getting himself killed considering the people he associates with, but I think he’s too smart for that.”
“It’s depressing,” Brian said, “that the best scenario we can hope for is he gets killed somehow.”
“I don’t think that’s likely, Seth is going to keep getting more people under his control. Moe said he’s going to get out of town when he graduates, Coach Fletcher is heading off, I think I’m going to follow their examples and just leave town once I graduate, go someplace far enough away from Seth where I can be happy.” Happy with the woman I love, Colin thought. “Until then, I won’t cower in the shadows though; I’ll stand up to him every time I see him trying to push me around.” Colin said determinedly.
“How do you do it? Not let him push you around?” Brian asked.
“I have a source of inner strength,” Colin said.
“Must be some source,” William said.
She is, Colin thought as they entered the locker room.
As soon as they went inside they could tell something was off. The room was too quiet, even though the team obviously still hadn’t left for the court. They rounded a row of lockers and saw Tedd Silvers sitting on a bench holding a towel to his face, there were red blotches on the towel.
“What happened?” William asked.
“Nothing much, Tedd just slipped and hit his face on a lock while getting changed,” Ricky Woods said with a grin, Colin could see blood on Ricky’s knuckles. “Isn’t that what happened Tedd?” Tedd just nodded despondently. “He must be so worn out from having to be a replacement starter for a couple games. I think all you replacements should take this as a lesson: don’t take on what you can’t handle.”
Colin saw Seth standing in the background, a neutral expression on his face, watching over everything, but it was almost as if Colin could see the puppet strings leading out from his fingers to Ricky’s body. Colin walked briskly yet calmly over to Ricky then punched him hard squarely in the middle of his face. Ricky went flying back into a row of lockers then slumped forward falling flat on his face.
Colin turned to Seth and spat, “You can have the school, you can have the team, and you can even have Sheryl. The only thing you will never have is me! I won’t bend to your will Seth, you know why? There’s one part of me you’ll never be able to touch, never be able to manipulate, no matter what you do. You can’t win Seth!” Colin thought he saw a brief flicker of emotion pass over Seth’s face, a fleeting moment where he caught a glimpse of the rage inside his cousin, and then his expression returned to a dispassionate look.
“All right, what’s going on in here?!!” Coach Sullivan exclaimed as he barged into the locker room. No one said a word. By this time Ricky had pulled himself up onto a bench and held a towel to his nose much like Tedd was doing.
Finally Seth broke the silence. “We just had some accidents,” he said very calmly. “There was some water on the floor and a couple people slipped and hurt themselves.”
Why is Seth covering up for both of us? Colin wondered, but then he realized that if he was going to cover up for Ricky, he would have to cover up for him as well.
“Silvers? Woods? Is that what happened?” Coach Sullivan asked. They both nodded. “I suppose no one else has a different story?” The rest of the players in the locker room remained quiet. Coach Sullivan sighed then he went over and checked out both Tedd and Ricky. “Looks like both of you have broken noses and you’ve got a nasty bump on the back of your head Ricky. Both of you come with me, we’ll get some ice for those injuries then I want both of you to call someone to pick you up, you may need to go see a doctor. Reilly!”
“Yes Coach?” Seth said.
“I want you to inform Coach Fletcher of what happened and where I’ve taken these boys.” Coach Sullivan said.
“Of course,” Seth said nonchalantly.
Coach Anderson left with Tedd and Ricky in tow. Colin expected Seth to say something to him once the coach had left the locker room, but all he said was, “Okay team, let’s get out on the court.”
Seth’s cool demeanor routine was starting to give Colin the creeps. He was up to şişli escort something, Colin could feel it; he just didn’t know what.
* * *
Both Tedd’s and Ricky’s noses turned out to be broken and they had to miss the rest of the season. There were only three games left. They didn’t miss much on Wednesday and Saturday. Liberty High went to Franklin High and got their butts kicked 42 to 59. Then they had a home game against George Washington High and that was another loss. Morale wasn’t high among the team in the wake of the scandal and Coach Fletcher’s impending departure. Colin had still played his best as did many others on the team, but it wasn’t enough. It was so easy to see Seth and his coconspirators weren’t even trying to play but there was nothing anyone could do. There had all ready been an investigation that concluded no foul play was being conducted.
The final game of the regular season was scheduled for the following Thursday. Next week was the start of finals beginning with the district championships and there would be no Saturday game as Saturday was Valentine’s Day and most schools were having dances.
The Liberty High Eagles were playing the William Penn High Patriots for their final game of the season and it was a home game. Whether they won or lost their last game, it was clear Liberty wasn’t going to make it to the finals. Colin had decided he would put this disappointing season behind him and concentrate on the good things in his life, namely Aileen. As long as he had her, even his bad days now seemed better than his best days before he got together with her.
The game started out much as Colin expected it to. Colin played his heart out but he wasn’t getting any help from Seth and the other starters. Kendis Dumont had been put in to play power forward since both Ricky and Tedd couldn’t play. Colin knew Kendis wasn’t in on Seth’s scam, but he wasn’t playing well all the same.
Seth was in rare form that night; his cold disposition warmed up enough to let his arrogance shine through. He smirked at Colin and Coach Fletcher every chance he got. They couldn’t touch him and he was rubbing their noses in it.
By halftime the score was 28 to 36, with William Penn in the lead of course. When they were in the locker room Coach Fletcher surprised the team by announcing that for the second half he was replacing the first stringers with the second stringers, except for Colin who would take over the point guard position again. In effect he had reinstated the team he put together while Seth and the others were on suspension, minus Tedd who was replaced with Jim Hayden.
Seth jumped up and shouted, “You aren’t allowed to do that! The investigation showed we did nothing wrong and you were told to let us play.”
“What are they going to do? Fire me?” The Coach said with a wicked grin. Seth seemed about to say something but no words came out of his mouth. He was speechless! He sat back down with a brooding look on his face.
“Team,” the coach said addressing the rest of the players. “This is my last game coaching for this school. I’d like to go out with a win, but as long as you go out there and give it your best shot, I’ll be satisfied. I know you are the ones I can count on to try your best, that’s why I’m putting you in. Now let’s show the Patriots that we aren’t a bunch of pushovers!”
“YEAH!!!” shouted most of the team jumping out of their seats. The coach had pumped everybody up for the second half, well almost everybody, Seth and the other first stringers looked ready to commit murder.
The Eagles paraded onto the court for the second half. When the game resumed it was like new life had been breathed into the team. A fire seemed to have been lit under Kendis who had replaced Colin at center position. His play improved dramatically; when Colin fed him the ball he scored more than half the time. By the start of the final quarter the score was 42 to 48 with the Patriots still in the lead, but Liberty was catching up.
There was electricity in the air during the fourth quarter. The Patriots were getting tired but the Eagles were playing with energy and enthusiasm. Brian, William, Kendis, Jim, and Colin were all making good plays and making baskets. With ten seconds left in the game the score was tied at 54. It looked like the game was going into overtime but in the last few seconds Colin got around a defensive player and passed the ball to William who was the closest to the net. William took a shot and made the basket. The Eagles had won 56 to 54.
The crowd was going wild because once again the back up players had outshined the starters and saved the game. Even though the investigation was closed Colin thought that maybe now the court of public opinion might decide that there was something to the allegations he and Coach Fletcher made. Colin imagined the coach must be thinking the same thing. He was sitting on the bench with a satisfied smile on his face; it was quite a contrast to Seth’s frown.
NEXT CHAPTER: DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART
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