February 4, 2015
The shower water was warm. Beulah Rollinghouse let it wash over her, an expensive bottle of Vitamin Infused Chitin Polish unopened at her feet. The dung beetle had started down the tunnel to the locker room before the final buzzer had sounded, and she had no intention of coming out until she could be sure everyone else had gone. The Arctics had emerged triumphant tonight, but Beulah had no desire to celebrate the victory with the rest of the team. She hadn’t earned it. The events of the game rolled through her mind on endless loop.
For most of the Arctics, the game promised to be unremarkable. Their opponents, the Tennessee Moonshiners, were languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, making their only visit to Anchorage this season.
Beulah, however, had one very good reason to dread this game in particular: Atticus Polyphemus. The loud-mouthed moth with an ego bigger than his talent had hated her ever since their first meeting years ago. Abrasive towards nearly everyone, the lepidopteran nevertheless reserved the worst of his vitriol for Beulah. She had thought she had seen the last of Atticus when Alaska had called her up, leaving him stuck in the D-League. Beulah had been flat-out stunned when Tennessee offered him a contract.
Tonight, they would meet for the first time as opponents on the FBA court. Beulah had been a nervous wreck all day, struggling to reassure herself that it was just a game like any other, that she could handle it, that she would be fine.
Kina Kong, the Arctics’ only other female player, came into the shower to ask Beulah if she was alright. The beetle forced a smile and assured the beluga whale that everything was fine.
It began the very first time she was on the court, late in the first quarter. A perfectly executed passing play left Beulah open down low for a quick layup and an easy two points. As the ball swished through the net, she heard a voice from the bench at the very edge of hearing, so faint she might have just been imagining it: “Lucky shot, shithead.”
Real or not, it rattled her. On the next play her shot clanged off the rim. There was no imagining it this time: “Good job, turdtongue.”
Then Atticus was off the bench and on the court. Beulah was about to make a pass to a teammate when: “Hey, shitfingers!” Beulah turned in reflex and passed the ball right to him, setting up a Tennessee breakaway. “Thanks, vox poopuli.” Back at the bench, Atticus made a big show of deliberately washing his hands. Beulah reached for her own ever-present hand sanitizer automatically.
From then on, it seemed as though every time she was on the court, there he was, right there. Every move Beulah made, every pass, every shot, earned her a fresh jibe from the moth.
“Nice pass, shitface.”
“Great shot, shitbreath.”
“Where’d you learn to play like that, copro-top.”
“Up Shit Creek with a knife and a fork.”
“Turd degree burn.”
“Manure of La Mancha.”
When he guarded her, he didn’t even try to stop her from shooting, so confident was he in his ability to make her miss at will, practically just by looking at her. And it worked. For the rest of the night, she didn’t sink a single basket.
Atticus, meanwhile, played better than he had in ages. The moth sank a dozen points, including two three-pointers, and was tied for team lead in assists. He reveled in showing off his skills in front of the scarab.
Beulah stared down at the drain at her feet, the water running down her face indistinguishable from her tears.
She pictured all her family and friends back home, watching the game on the TVs she had bought them, on the cable sports packages she paid for so they could watch Alaska Arctics games in New Jersey. They relied on her. Every dollar she earned went back to her old neighborhood, just to help make things a little better, leaving herself only enough to get by in Anchorage.
She had let them down. Everyone.
She didn’t deserve to be on the Arctics. Tonight had been the latest and worst in a long series of poor personal performances. When they lost, they lost because of her. When they won, they won in spite of her. She didn’t have what it took to compete at the sport’s highest level, and Atticus knew it. It was only a matter of time before they bought her out and sent her packing. She couldn’t blame them.
Beulah had no way to gauge how long she had been in the shower. The water was still as warm as when she started; the Alaska Arctics had certainly not skimped on water heaters for their players. Still, it had to have been long enough by now. She could dress in private and escape unnoticed.
She turned off the water and pulled on her sweats in the deserted women’s locker room. As she made her way down the corridor past the men’s locker room, the voice of the team captain, Cliff Matthiews, called out, “Rollinghouse! Get in here.”
Beulah circumspectly peered into the room and just about had a heart attack. The entire team was there, waiting for her, looking at her, /staring/ at her. Ready to chew her out for her terrible performance. She was being cut, she just knew it. It was no less than she deserved.
“’Bout time you finished,” Cliff said, “If you’d stayed in there any longer, we were gonna call in the Coast Guard.”
“That actually happened to me once—“
“Not the time, Tate.”
“What the hell happened out there, Rollinghouse?”
Beulah tried to make herself as small as possible, no easy feat for someone six feet tall.
“Was it Polyphemus?”
Beulah looked around. “Didn’t you hear him?”
There was a chorus of head-shaking, a few quietly indicating they thought they might have heard something but had brushed it off.
“He never let up…” the beetle whimpered.
“So next time, you don’t let up. Tear him apart,” Ambrose Slade forcefully suggested.
“No. I can’t. That’s not who I am.”
“Well then maybe for him you should be. He gets mean, you get angry. Make him respect you.”
“I don’t want—I just want him to leave me alone—“
“You should take it up with the Players’ Association,” suggested Mason Yoder, staring earnestly at a point three feet to the right of Beulah.
“No, the last thing I need is for him to hear I whined to the authorities. I don’t need help from them, or you, or… I don’t need help.” She took a deep breath. “I can handle it,” she said with all the confidence she could fake.
“Bloody hell, Rollinghouse, we’re your team,” Slade snarled, “You don’t have to do this alone.”
“No, I do. You don’t understand—“
“What is it? Do you think you’re too good for us?” The lynx snapped.
“What?! No, I—I—“ Beulah stuttered, shocked at the accusation.
“You think we’re too good for you.” It wasn’t a question; just a quiet statement of fact. Carl Esteban, the team’s most experienced veteran, had been sitting quietly the whole time, observing. The jaguar never said much, but when he did, people listened.
Beulah could only nod in the ringing silence that followed.
“Well forget it. You are an Arctic, same as any of us. You belong here. Someone has a problem with you, they have a problem with all of us. And I trust you’d do the same for any of us.” His piece said, Esteban stood up and left.
That seemed to be the cue everyone was waiting for. One by one they stood up and filed out of the room past Beulah.
“The next time Flappy tries something like that, you tell us. He’ll regret the day he ever pupated,” Slade stopped and whispered to Beulah as he passed.
Kilisimasi Fu’afu’a said nothing; he just wrapped her in the biggest, furriest hug he could muster – which was very big, and very furry. Beulah wondered how his fur always smelled so nice, even right after a game.
Zack Tate pulled an Atticus Polyphemus bobblehead out of his bag. “If you need something to practice your comebacks on…”
“Where did you get that?” Beulah asked.
“From the Moonshiners’ locker room. They had a whole bag of them. I can strap a cherrybomb to it later. I’ll let you light the fuse, dude.”
“Aren’t cherrybombs illegal?”
“Are they?” The zorilla shrugged and walked on.
Alessandro Serra, Kina Kong, both the Baylor brothers, even the only recently called-up rookie Paramonimos Konstantidis, offered her words of encouragement and help. It was too much, more than Beulah had ever expected a filthy stinking no-talent dung beetle could receive in the FBA. Beulah sank to the bench overwhelmed as the last player left.
No, not quite the last. Beulah realized Valentine Prudhomme was still there, watching her, his gold eyes full of concern. “Do you want to talk about it, my sister? I will listen.” Without the skeletal facepaint the black fox wore during games, he looked very humble; even a little handsome.
Beulah looked down at the purloined bobblehead she held in her hands. “I never did anything to him,” the beetle said quietly, “I just want to play the sport I love and help my family. Is that wrong? Why can’t he just leave me alone?”
Valentine sat down beside Beulah and put his arm around her. “I understand, my sister.”
She sighed. “What am I doing here?”
“Is there any place you would rather be? Anything you would rather be doing?”
Beulah looked at the fox for a few seconds, and then wordlessly shook her head.
“There. You see? Mr. Esteban, he is right. You are where you belong.” He lightly kissed the side of her head. “Let me take you home.”
General chit-chat all the teams in the West. Rumors, idle banter, trash-talk.
Make sure to read the Rules of 'Roleplay'
Make sure to read the Rules of 'Roleplay'
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