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Plot 3

Ellen dropped Norman’s coffee off with the secretary and returned to her office.  The headache had worsened with the stress of the meeting, and all she really wanted was a few minutes of quiet to regroup.  She left the lights off, and sat at her desk with her coffee.  All she really wanted to do right now was go home and sleep off the headache.

She mulled over the meeting in her mind.  As predicted, nothing had happened.  The boys were off the team.  Despite the parents’ agreement that the boys would attend the adult program to make up the credits, Ellen knew that it was likely they wouldn’t graduate in June without constant attention.  She turned to her computer and emailed the adult program, requesting verification when the boys enrolled.  If they enrolled.

A soft knock at the door interrupted her reverie.  She looked up and smiled.  “Hey Brandon.  What can I do for you?”  

“You have a minute Ms. Jones?”

“Always for you.  What class did you skip out of to come talk to me?”

“Calculus.  Bellon has a sub, and no one is doing anything but talking.  It was getting on my nerves.”

“You sure that was all that was getting on your nerves?” Ellen asked.

“I don’t suppose you can tell me what happened this morning,” Brandon replied.

“You know I can’t.”

“Ms. Jones, if they can’t play, we won’t win.  If we don’t win, my chance at that scholarship is shot.”  Brandon was getting increasingly distressed.  In his mind, he had one ticket out of this place and the life he knew would be his if he stayed here.

“Hon, we’ve talked about the scouts before.  From what Coach Mark says, they are most definitely coming to see you.  They aren’t interested in what the team does, they are interested in what you do with the team.  No matter what happens, you just have to get out on the floor and do your thing.  They’re going to see how well you play and how well you lead whether or not the team wins.  In fact, let’s imagine the worst case,  that they ARE off the team.  It actually gives you a chance to shine even brighter when they see how well you cope with adversity with the rest of the team.”

Brandon looked doubtful.  He was an athlete through and through, and for him, the win was paramount.  “Still, I hope they can play.”  He looked narrowly at Ellen.  “They can’t, can they?”

She didn’t reply, and that was answer enough.


“You need to calm down, Brandon.  You won’t be able to show them much of anything tonight if you spend the rest of the day worrying about it.”

“Can I stay here and work on my Calculus this period?”

Ellen looked at him.  She didn’t like how he was reacting.  Something else was going on.  “Is your great-grandmother okay?  How are things going at home?”  Brandon’s great-grandmother, with whom he had been living for most of his life, had Alzheimer’s.  

Brandon shrugged.  “Pretty much the same.  She don’t do much, and she don’t remember who I am most of the time.”

Ellen sharply retorted, “Vernacular, Brandon!”

He grinned sheepishly.  “She doesn’t do much, and she doesn’t remember who I am most of the time.”

“How’s your Auntie May holding up?”  May was Brandon’s great-aunt, daughter of Mrs. Hawkins.  

“She’s okay too.  I do most of the hard stuff with Grandma in the morning before school and at night before bed.”  

Ellen inwardly winced.  She knew that ‘hard stuff’ referred to bathing and dressing the old woman.  Not many seventeen-year-olds could handle that.

“You make sure that you tell me when it gets to be too much for you and Aunt May.  We can get a visiting nurse and a home-health aide in there to assist when you can’t handle it.”

Brandon calmly responded, “No thank you, Ms. Jones.  There’s more family if we need it.  No stranger is going to take care of Grandma.  People from the church are already bringing enough food to feed us three times over during the week.

Mrs. Hawkins was a much beloved member of the community.  Ellen knew that Brandon was right, that they would rise to the occasion of tenderly caring for the woman until it was time for her to go.  

“Okay.  I want that calculus done before the end of the period, though.  Don’t you dare ask me for help, either.”

Brandon cracked up.  The thought of asking Ms. Jones for help with anything related to math was pretty funny.  She was hopeless with math.  “Oh, don’t worry, I won’t.  I don’t want to get it wrong.”
He pulled out his book and got to work.  Ellen turned to her computer and worried about the game tonight.  She knew she was right about the recruiter, knew that how Brandon handled the adversity of having two of the best players out of the game would be critical, but still, she felt awful about the situation.  He was already nervous about it.  He didn’t need to be, but he was.  The recruiter had actually spotted him at basketball camp during the previous summer.

She looked over at the handsome young man in front of her.  He was tall, but not very tall for a b-baller, only 6’4”, and built rather more solidly than most of the team.  The solidity was all muscle, though, from years of religiously working out with weights.  At the moment, his brow was furrowed in concentration as he worked through the math problems, but when he grinned, it was infectious.  His smile lit up his entire face, and yours with it.  Somehow you managed to overlook the other minor imperfections that kept him just this side of good-looking when he smiled.  He smiled often, which still astounded Ellen.

She had met him when he was a puny sixth-grader with none of the height and muscle he now possessed.  She had been on her way home from school, and saw a group of high school students all grouped together at the park.  Years of experience told her a fight was about to start.  The crowd had that animal intensity present when violence is brewing, circling in to prevent witnesses from seeing.  Never one to shirk responsibility, she had pulled the car over and got out yelling.  Her cell phone, as usual, was somewhere not on her person, so she couldn’t call for help.  As she marched into the fray, she gratefully realized that she knew the kids in the middle.  Knowing names was a powerful thing.  She didn’t know the victim, though.  He was small, but it didn’t seem to matter.  He was standing up straight, and he looked unafraid, even though he was bleeding from a cut over his eye.  “Pedro! Adolfo! Miguel!  Israel!  What the HELL are you doing?”  Pedro turned toward her with a sneer.  “Getting this nigger punk out of our park.”  Ellen stopped dead still.  She began quaking with rage.  “Get. Out. Of. Here.”  Miguel, as the lone senior, knew her best.  He watched the red creep up Ms. Jones’ neck and knew what it meant.  “Come on, bro.  This lady don’t play, and I don’t have time to deal with the cops right now.”  Adolfo, who sort of liked Ellen ever since she had helped his family out with a problem, grabbed Pedro’s arm.  “We’re outta here, Pedro.  Come on.”  Pedro glared at Ellen, just to make sure she understood that he wasn’t afraid of her.  He spat toward the little boy.  “Pendejo!  You stay out of our park.”

The crowd gradually dispersed.  When they were alone, Ellen knelt in front of the boy.  “Are you okay?” she asked.
 “Fine,” he muttered.  
“What school do you go to?”
“Why are you all the way over here today?”
“Auntie had a meeting with my cousin’s teacher at the high school.  I’m waiting for her.  She said I could play basketball while I waited.”

Ellen nodded toward his head.  “Do you mind?”  He shrugged.  The cut was shallow, but it had bled quite a bit.  The child’s thin t-shirt, graying with age, was covered with blood.  He was remarkably calm.

“Who’s your Auntie?”
“Sonia Miller.”

“Who are you?”

“Brandon Hawkins.”

“You related to the Hawkins on Bradford?”

“That’s my Grandma.  I live there too.”

“Tell you what.  Let’s go back to the high school and have the nurse look at that eye.  Then I’ll find your auntie, so she knows where you are.”

Brandon shrugged again.  “She won’t care.  Didn’t want to pick me up today anyway.”

Ellen dug through the mess on the back seat of her car, and handed him some tissue.  He got in, and she drove the block back to the high school.  Once the nurse had cleaned him up and declared that he would live, Ellen brought Brandon to the gym where the girls’ basketball team was practicing.  “Hey Coach!  Can this young man get a few lessons from the girls while I’m talking to his aunt?”  Jennie Dixon looked over at her, saw the boy, and nodded.  

“Brandon, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Grimly, she went off to find the aunt.  The woman ought to have known better than to leave her African-American nephew at that particular park.  The Hawkins clan had been around for a long time.  She couldn’t claim ignorance about the territorial disputes between the black and the brown students in this town.  Leaving a sixth-grader at that park as the high school was dismissing had been asking for trouble.  

“Ask and ye shall receive,” thought Ellen, as she marched back up to the office.


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