I sat with my head in my hands, blinking away angry tears as the team streamed into the locker room, brooding. We’re still going to the tournament, relax, I kept telling myself. Our team—the UConn Huskies—was good enough that even though we lost in the ACC Tournament, we’d get an at-large bid to the NCAA one. Despite this fact, my tears continued to flow. We lost because of me, and each and every one of my teammates knew it. And here I was, crying about it like a child. On a typical day, I’d just get pissed and do something physical to blow off steam before I blew my top, but this feeling was just pure embarrassment and I wanted to crawl into a hole.
Jerking up, I wiped my eyes and tried to make it seem as though I was unfazed by my piss-poor performance. One by one, my cohorts walked in, letting their eyes slide over me. The freshman who was supposed to be the next big thing. The one who let them down so badly tonight.
I feigned a smile and rubbed my knee, which had been clicking and giving me a hard time this week. I could blame my performance tonight on my knee, but that would be a cop-out. I sucked, plain and simple. No Rookie of the Year Award for me. No, I would be lucky if I was able to keep my scholarship after this disaster.
The last person to enter the locker room was our coach, Henry Dunkilson, aka Dunks. His expression showed reserved disappointment, nodding at our captains, Donelle and Reese, as he passed. Unlike my teammates, he did look me in the eye. He blinked once and continued to the center of the room where a crowd had made way for him. My gut clenched. It was speech time.
Dunks doesn’t mince words. His speeches both excited and incited us at the same time. He’d congratulate us for still making the tournament, sure, but he’d break down the errors in the game so that none of us would ever forget what we had done wrong.
I knew what this would be like for me.
“Once again,” he said, gravelly voice echoing through the now-silent locker room, “the ladies of UConn are moving on to the NCAA Tournament.”
The team erupted with cheers, whoops, and squeals of joy.
I choked back a sob.
“Now, to the casual observer, that would sound like a victory, wouldn’t it?”
The cheers cooled and settled into silence.
Yeah, coach. Point taken.
“Sloppy, regardless of this game’s significance. This was a sloppy loss and you know it,” he said, pointing his finger across the sea of sober faces. “We may be moving on, but tonight was like we slid backward. This was junior varsity quality, ladies. Hell, it’s over-forty men’s league.”
A few snickers. I blinked rapidly.
“We can chalk our loss up to one thing, and one thing only,” he said, scanning the crowd again. “Who can tell me what that is?”
Turnovers. I raised my hand to speak and he called on our captain, Donelle.
“Sloppy defense?” she answered.
“Turnovers,” I said, but chatter drowned me out.
“Nobody?” Coach asked again.
I fought to find my voice, but my throat was constricted with sobs I wouldn’t let out. “Turnovers!” It came out as a pathetic whimper.
Coach just shook his head. “The fact that not a single one of you can identify the error in our performance is worrisome. The problem was turnovers. And not the flaky kind my wife likes to bake on Sundays.”
Nobody even had the guts to laugh at his joke.
“Pops,” he said, looking at me. My stomach turned into an iceberg and sunk deep into my abdomen, pulling my breath with it. “You allowed ten turnovers.” He shook his head. “I know you’re a freshman, but that kind of stuff can lose the tournament for us.”
Mute and blind with tears, I nodded. Dunks continued calling out team members and telling them how many times they let him down, but none more than four times.
I was the big failure of the night.
If my high school team were here right now, they’d be shocked. I was the all-time scorer in my school’s history. I was offered full-ride scholarships from five D I schools. I rarely missed a shot and my turnover-to-assist ratio was to die for.
In high school, they called me Greece Lightning. My family owned the town’s favorite pizza shop, Parthenon; I always got good-natured teasing about my heritage. And superb pizza-making skills. Anyway, I was the highest-scoring female in the history of my high school. I broke every record there was to break, but now that I actually fulfilled everyone’s predictions that I’d be playing ball as a freshman on a Division I team, I was a little fish in a huge pond.
Hell, at UConn, it felt like I was a minnow in the Atlantic.
But they didn’t know any of this, my new teammates. Each year a crop of swelled-headed freshmen come in and get humbled, so I suppose to them, I was just one of the many who couldn’t keep up. At least I had the tournament to prove myself.
A soft hand landed on my shoulder and I knew it was my roommate, Callie. I looked up and there she was, goofy grin and freckles. “It’s fine, Thea,” she whispered, and planted a kiss on my forehead. I hoped the team didn’t see her coddling me. I shrugged her hand off and nodded.
Coach left after a few more sharp words, and the team got up to shower. They were all still relatively unaffected by Dunks’s speech. “Don’t let him bother you,” Callie said as we headed into the bathroom. “They’re feeling no pain, neither should you.” Girls were swatting each other playfully with towels and screeching with laughter despite the loss. They were just excited about moving on. I was too angry with myself to let the loss slide.
“They didn’t allow ten,” I grumbled.
Callie’s hands spun me toward her. “I heard you answer Coach’s question, by the way.”
She sighed. “So? You know, if you spoke up, I think the team would benefit. You’re always telling me little insider tips about the other team. Maybe before next game, say something and they’ll forgive your horrible performance.” Callie grinned again and I nearly swallowed my tongue. She was a good friend. A brutally honest one, but a friend nonetheless.
“They won’t listen,” I said, crossing my arms, tightening my towel’s hold on my body. “They never do when we’re off the court. We’re freshmen.” As a point guard, I am able to be pretty vocal while we’re playing, but once we’re back in the locker room, it is like I lose my voice each time the game ends.
Callie shrugged. “I know how bossy you can be. I’ve seen you debate with Wes at parties and scare the pants off the boys’ team. Just do the same with us, okay?”
“I want to go home,” I mumbled. To Callie, to me, to my team. All I wanted was to sit in my living room wearing my Snoopy slippers, eat my mom’s famous stuffed grape leaves, and laugh with my little brothers. Have my Yaya braid my hair. Sleep in my real bed, a big luxurious full mattress, and not the extra-long twin that I crashed on each night here.
I never thought I’d miss home so much.
Callie looped her arm through mine. “I’m treating you tonight, once we get back to campus.” The ACC Tournament we were at was away in nearby Massachusetts, just a short bus ride home.
I snorted. “Oh yeah? Cookies and cream or butter pecan?” There is a place in town called Sweet Stuff that delivers ice cream to dorms at all hours. Callie has them programmed into her phone and the owner knows her by name. Our game was at two PM, so the place would definitely still be open once we returned.
“Nope,” she said with a sly smile, “Boys and booze, baby.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Now I really wanted to go home.
THE ROOM ERUPTED IN CHEERS as we walked in.
I glanced at Callie, who was paying the boy at the beer-pong table for our two cups.
“These guys know who we are?” I asked, glancing around the room. We were on Ellbridge Drive, a street notorious for frosh parties. Upperclassmen would rent houses on Ell Drive and charge freshmen per cup. They’d make huge batches of Death Punch—no, really, that’s what it’s actually called—and make hundreds of dollars a night from desperate underage kids who just wanted to party but had no cool upperclassmen friends. We were only here because Callie knew our team wouldn’t be. It still felt embarrassing.
She glanced over my shoulder and frowned. “It’s not us they’re cheering for.”
I turned around and promptly decided that Death Punch wasn’t going to be the worst thing about hitting Ell Drive for the night.
Wesley. Hargrove. I watched him laugh with his teammates, huge nostrils flaring and buckteeth chomping at the air as he laughed.
Wesley, it is said in college basketball circles, is the male Thea “Pops” Papastathopoulos. And it makes my skin crawl. We were nothing alike in life, but on paper, different story.
He was a freshman point guard. Check. Rookie of the Year candidate. Check. All-time point scorer for his high school team. Check. Classics major. Check.
The dude haunted me. I couldn’t go to class without seeing his donkey face and I couldn’t go to practice without bumping into him. His personality was as smooth as cottage cheese and his breath smelled like ass and I hated his guts.
As if sensing my distaste, his Sputnik-shaped head swiveled in my direction and he pointed, cup sloshing over his fingers. “Drinking away your troubles, Pops?”
The boys with him laughed.
“Better hang on to that cup, or someone might just take it out of your hands. You wouldn’t be familiar with that sensation, would you?”
My simmering anger finally had a target other than myself. Good.
“Give him hell,” Callie whispered, taking a long swig from her cup. I handed her mine.
Luckily, the other teammates weren’t upperclassmen, just Wes’s toadies. I’m not sure I would have had the balls to approach them otherwise.
“I know tonight wasn’t my finest performance,” I said, pretending to capitulate, “but at least I wasn’t caught crying on the sidelines over my ankle.”
“The fuck are you talking about?” he asked, face clearly stunned and disarmed.
I shrugged. “In the era of Instagram, one can’t be too careful about ugly and embarrassing photos from high school games getting passed around the Internet.”
“No clue what you’re talking about,” he said, rolling his eyes.
I tapped my chin. “That’s funny, because I heard your nickname was Wesley Waters, as in you cried after like every game you lost.”
His mouth moved wordlessly as I snatched his drink. “Turnover!”
Take that, Wes.
Callie high-fived me as a light flashed in our faces.
Wes’s phone was pointed at us.
“Looks like Coach Dunks isn’t going to be too happy to find out that rather than resting or going over the game’s lowlights, you decided to drown your sorrows in Death Punch.”
My fist clenched, and the drink dribbled over. “I haven’t taken a sip and you know it.”
He shrugged. “Go home, you’re drunk!” Wes shouted. So him to use recycled humor. A bunch of partygoers glanced in our direction. A few pointed.
My throat dried and I tried to retort, tried to fight back, but he had all the evidence he needed. One more push and I’d be benched for certain. I wanted so badly to let my anger out on him, to rant and dismantle him, but that would only make me look either drunk or bitter and I couldn’t afford either tonight.
So I went home a loser for the second time today.
How to Reprimand Your Rock Star
Thea is a star basketball player at UConn on track to be Rookie of the Year. That is, if she can stay focused on the game. Lately that hasn’t been going so well, as her knee has been bothering her. But that’s not the only thing on her mind…
Ever since rock star Keaton Lowe surprised her in the girl’s locker room, Thea can’t stop thinking about him. On top of his status and enticing ways, he seems to know everything about her. But some of his actions cross the line, and Keaton needs to be punished. Will Thea keep her head in the game, or get distracted by her other favorite pastime—reprimanding her rock star?
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