A sudden flash of orange in my peripheral sight caused an alarm in my brain, and I glanced up in time to see a basketball hurtling straight at my face. I slowed it down on the way as soon as I saw it, and caught it between my hands. Then I looked in the direction it had come from.
“Nice catch,” called a familiar-looking boy. I squinted at him, then realized I recognized him from my math class. He was the one who’d called me “gorgeous” and tried to hit on me. I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Hel-lo, stupid,” he called when I just sat there, “aren’t you gonna throw the ball back?”
“You bet I am,” I said to myself. I pitched the ball straight at him with as much force as I thought I could use without actually making it go right through him. I made sure it hit him solidly in the stomach. He fell over backwards on the court, and all the guys laughed. I smiled demurely and went back to my geography.
I should have known he wouldn’t leave me alone after a stunt like that. A pair of dirty basketball shoes entered my view, and I looked up.
“Hey, you,” he said. “Your ass is mine.”
“Sorry, I’d like to keep my ass, if you wouldn’t mind.” I closed my book.
“Smart ass, huh? Don’t let your mouth write checks your body can’t cash.”
“If I were you I wouldn’t fuck with me.”
The boy stared at me like I’d just tried to shoot him.
“What’re you lookin’ at?” I asked, turning up my accent. The boy seemed to come out of his cloud of surprise when he heard the challenge in my voice.
“So you think you’re pretty tough, huh?”
“You can’t imagine.”
“Let’s see if you’re that tough on the basketball court, huh, sweetie?”
I wondered if he automatically assumed I played basketball because of my height, or my shoes. Or maybe he just thought I must be good at throwing basketballs, since I’d just knocked him over. He bounced the basketball, coming dangerously close to hitting me. I flinched, and he laughed.
“Arright, you asked for it,” I retorted, drawing myself up to my full height. I was almost as tall as he was. He looked surprised that I had accepted his challenge. I was somewhat surprised at myself, for that matter, but I decided I would be damned if I was going to resign myself to wimp status. If I had to be the freaky clueless girl from Russia, I at least wanted to be the reputable freaky clueless girl from Russia. No one was going to mess with me if I could help it; I was not going to establish myself as a doormat. Not to mention that I had nothing better to do than kick his butt.
The guy claimed a hoop for the two of us, and everyone stayed out of his way. It seemed that everyone respected him. I wondered what was so great about him. Once on the court waiting for the guy to be ready, I suddenly got butterflies. I resolved that I would lose the game before I would get caught flying. I hoped I wouldn’t screw it up, since I knew at least ten people were watching me intently, and probably twenty others were paying minimal attention. I decided to watch my own movements as much as I could. If I paid too much attention to what he was doing, I was liable to automatically use my energy to counter, but if he scored a couple times, I could always get the points back. I couldn’t save my reputation if I wrecked it.
“You can be first since you’re the challenger,” he said, tossing me the ball. I checked it roughly and when he passed it back to me, I found he was an excellent guard. I tried to get around him, but he got in my way, and then stole the ball without fouling. My wounded pride burned in my chest, and I watched helplessly as he shot the ball toward the basket over my head. It was a perfect shot, so I was sure he wondered how it missed the basket entirely. I grabbed it on the rebound and tucked it neatly into the basket. He stared.
“My point,” I said, antagonizing him. He passed the ball to me grudgingly, and I passed it back. Then he took off down the court again, dribbling with lightning speed. I tried guarding him and found it almost impossible. I concentrated harder on stealing the ball from him and blocking his shots convincingly. All I had to do was get my hand on the ball and my energy could curl around it and do the rest, but even that was difficult. He was a lot better than Bill.
He actually managed to score a few points on me during the course of the game; he was the best player I’d ever seen. Even with my telekinetic advantages, he still was able to get past me occasionally and pop it into the basket before I could make it do otherwise. I was playing how I’d always wanted to play against Bill, using every trick in the book, because I knew that no one would attribute my control of the ball and my “good shots” to anything but athletic prowess and accurate aim. I made myself lighter so that I could run with ease down the court, and I took every chance I got to steal the ball or mess up his shots. My ego outdid my conscience, telling me I’d rather win than play fair. I rationalized it by telling myself that he had the advantages of height, experience, and strength. I would just be a very weak girl without my powers, so it must be okay to use them. I was quite a few points ahead, so it looked like I was beating him easily, but secretly I knew he was an amazing player, and it took a lot of energy to match and out-maneuver him. It made me very jealous, which only fed my ambition.
The guy leaped off the ground and tossed the basketball sideways right into the basket, amazing me with his agility and accuracy. My cheeks burned in frustration and disappointment that I still had to try this hard to beat him. I gritted my teeth and decided I meant serious business now.
After his excellent shot, he began to get cocky. I got the ball from him then and dashed down the court, being careful not to break the rules by traveling. He got in front of me somehow like he always did, and I bounced sideways around him, realizing too late that I’d used my energy field way too much. Thinking quickly, I lifted myself a little higher and grabbed the edge of the basketball hoop after I dropped the ball in. I did that because I wasn’t sure how to fall realistically from the height I’d already jumped. Bill had told me what slam-dunks were and that they were possible, but I realized I’d overdone it when I looked down at how far the guy was below me. If someone could actually jump this high they’d be a god, or really tall. I was no longer just good. I was unbelievable. I had just put myself in a totally different league, and now I was going to have to deal with that. I wondered how the hell I managed to get myself into these situations.
Taking a deep breath, I let go of the hoop and let myself fall completely by gravity. When my feet hit the ground, my knees buckled and I fell on my bum. I hoped that my little accident would take away some of the shock on my opponent’s face. Maybe my not-so-graceful landing would make me look a little less amazing, or at least divert some of the attention from my flying stunt. I sure hoped it would, since my feet were smarting and my bottom hurt as a result. He still looked completely stunned.
I got up and pretended that I had done something completely normal, and readied myself for the next round. He didn’t move and just kept staring at me. Finally I just dropped my arms and demanded, “What are you looking at?”
“You can slam-dunk. I could never do that,” he told me.
“Don’t worry about it, let’s just play,” I ordered, grabbing the ball and handing it to him gently.
“Excuse me,” said a new voice, “but I saw what you did there, and I wondered if you might like to join the girls’ basketball team here at school.”
I turned, and it was the coach of the class.
“If you’d like to, you can come and fill out some paperwork in my office after school, and I’ll put you on the team. You don’t need a tryout or anything, since I think you already proved yourself.”
“Me, on the basketball team?” I asked, sounding stupid even to myself. I knew what I’d just done would be considered phenomenal playing had I been doing it physically, and she didn’t know there was any other way.
“Well, not just any girl could go up against the captain of the Sands High basketball team and kick his butt,” said the teacher, surprising me with her casual wording.
I thought about what it would be like to be on a basketball team, and be good at something, and maybe make friends too. I wondered what would happen if I said yes.
“Um . . . what would I have to do?” I asked.
“Hey, people don’t get invited to join the team. They have to try out, and you already missed tryouts,” protested the guy I’d been playing.
“Butt out, Thomas,” said the gym teacher, shocking me again. He shut up.
“All you’d have to do is pass a physical, and then you could be on the team,” she told me.
“What’s a physical?” I asked. She looked confused, so I added, “Sorry. I just moved from out of the country, so I don’t know some of your words.” I smiled at her to let her know I was serious.
“Out of the country,” repeated Thomas, sounding grouchy.
“Yes, I’m from Russia, ever heard of it?” I said.
“I didn’t know Russia was some kind of basketball warrior training ground,” he said, looking really embarrassed. I guessed it was finally sinking in that I’d kicked his ass hard.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with where I’m from,” I said.
“Well, over here I’ve never seen a girl that plays like you.” It sounded like a grudging compliment. I was about to tease him when I remembered I was in the middle of a conversation with the coach.
“Oh yeah,” I said, turning to her. “You were telling me . . . what a physical was, right? The thing you have to do to get on the team?”
“Well, it’s just a note from a doctor saying you’re in good physical health. You have to go and get an examination by a registered physician, and that’s it.”
That decided it, I wasn’t going to be able to be on the basketball team. There was no way I was going to go to a doctor and be told that I was healthy . . . but a different species. Not to mention that I was having second thoughts about whether it was right to use my abilities to win in basketball.
“Actually, I’m kinda busy. I don’t really have room in my schedule for anything extra, so I’m gonna have to say I can’t be on your basketball team. Sorry about that.”
She looked sort of disappointed.
“Oh, too bad. I was hoping you’d be our new secret weapon.” She patted my shoulder like she was my friend. “Never seen a girl slam-dunk like that. That was fabulous.” I smiled at her compliment. “So, maybe next year, huh?”
I nodded, not giving her any real response. She smiled like I’d given her a “yes” answer and walked away.
“So, how did you do that, anyway, girl?” asked the guy I’d been playing.
“Come on, anyone can learn to slam-dunk,” I replied, trying to play it off.
“I try,” he said, “but . . . well, watch.” He dashed off toward the basket, bouncing the ball, then leaped into the air as high as it looked like he could. He went a good deal off the ground, enough to impress me, since I knew he did it physically. Of course, I was impressed when someone could walk across an entire mall at a moderate speed without getting tired, so that didn’t say much. I analyzed his movements with my eyes, trying to see what stopped him from jumping higher. I decided to try to give him advice.
“You’re putting too much of your energy into jumping forward,” I told him. “If you channel some of that to your vertical jump, you’ll go higher instead of far at the same time. Do you know what I mean?”
“I could try that,” he said agreeably. This time he ran toward the basket and almost stopped short before he leaped off the ground. It looked like it had helped, but there was no way he was ever going to touch the basket. He was a good three-quarters of a meter away from the rim at his highest point.
“So,” he said, approaching me and breathing hard, “what’s your name, anyway?”
“I’m Ivy,” I said.
“I’m Thomas, captain of the basketball team.”
I wondered if he used that as his title. It sure explained why he’d challenged me to a game; he’d been sure he could beat me.
“So, you want a rematch, Ivy?”
“Tell you what,” I said, “you practice a little more, and when I think you’ll give me a challenge, I’ll give you a holler.” I gave him a simpering grin laced with superiority.
“You cocky little bitch,” he said in disbelief. I rolled my eyes and went back to my corner to do the rest of my homework. He didn’t bother me again.
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