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Chapter 16

“Trenton,” Chris yelled, “hit me ... I’m open.”

I faked a jump shot and swung the ball to Chris, who stutter-stepped, drawing Steve off-balance, and banked it in to tie the game at three all.

“Come on, Steve,” Matt shouted as he tossed the ball to his playing partner at the top of the circle. “These losers got nothing on us.” Matt hated losing and sometimes lost his head during these pick-up games. However, you’d think it was the NBA Championship by the way Matt played. “And Janik, make sure Trenton’s not traveling.”

“I call it like I see it,” Janik replied. He was odd man out this time and was the designated referee. Matt and Steve were pretty good, especially since Matt’s growth spurt over the last few months, so it was a surprise that Chris and I were hanging in there. However, it was still early in the game and the odds were against us.

Steve checked the ball with Chris while Matt was busy backing into me hard, trying to prevent me from getting in between him and the ball. Steve faked a pass and Matt jabbed his elbow into my chest causing me to freeze. It was dirty and he did it on purpose and it worked. He broke free and Steve snapped the ball to him. Matt turned and dropped it in the hole to go up by one. He caught my grimace and saw me rubbing my chest out of the corner of his eye. A grin emerged as he retrieved the ball and tossed it to Chris at the top of the paint.

Chris checked it quickly with Steve and tried to surprise them by bounce-passing it to me, but I was still reeling from Matt’s elbow and the ball slipped past and went out of bounds. I looked at Janik for an explanation of his blown call, but he just shrugged.

The game went on for another five minutes with each team scoring a few points. However, as the score increased so did Matt’s aggressive behavior. At one point, he knocked Steve and me over while going up for a rebound.

“Take it easy, Matt,” Steve exclaimed. “We’re on the same damn team.”

Matt brushed it off and extended his hand as gesture of good will. Steve slapped it and checked the ball for Chris.

In the next series of plays, Chris knocked in two outside shots compared to my layup, while the other guys only scored once. Matt was pissed and his elbows went into full swing. With my chest and shoulders having had just about enough – and Janik enjoying being a spectator more than a ref – I hip-checked Matt’s legs out from under him as he went up for a monstrous layup. He hit the ground with a thud and scraped his left knee. His facial contortions exemplified the pain. I felt bad because it wasn’t like me to give it back that hard, but he had it coming and I was tired of being used as a piñata.

As I went to help him up, he grabbed my extended hand, pulled me toward him and used that leverage to stick his foot on my stomach and launch me. I flew over him and landed on my back.

“What the...!” Janik yelled as Matt and I jumped up and charged each other. Luckily, Chris and Steve got in between us, but Matt was fuming.

“Screw you, Trenton!” Matt yelled.

“What the hell’s your problem?” I shouted back.

“If you can’t take it, don’t play,” he replied and angrily backed off with the help of Chris.

“Take it easy, dumb asses,” Steve said, still pushing me back. “Are you alright?”

I nodded and shouted to Matt, “What’s up your ass, dickhead?”

“Get bent!” he yelled, disentangling himself from Chris’s grasp and charged off the court in the opposite direction.

“Where the hell are you going?” Chris asked.

“Away from you sore losers,” Matt replied and disappeared through the gate.

“What the hell was that?” Janik asked, speaking for us all.

“Got me,” I replied.

“What the hell did you do to him, Trenton?” Janik continued. “I’ve never seen him act crazy like that before.”

“Me neither,” I said, but unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely surprised. As I had suspected earlier, something was happening to Matt and this was the ongoing byproduct of that transformation.

“That dude needs to chill out,” Chris said and tossed Janik the ball. “Looks like you’re in.”

“It’s about time,” Janik said with a grin. “No rough stuff, though ... got that Trenton?”

“Funny,” I replied and searched for Matt in the distance, but he was long gone.

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