Written by Mitch, Rourkie, & Blades
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Just over half an hour had passed since Zack Cooper had driven himself and Adge Martin back to the combine hotel. It was enough time for Adge to guess Zack would be busy with something, and sneak back out. He could have asked for a quick detour on the way back, but as the beaver had already been polite enough to take time out to help him choose a laptop, asking more of his time seemed selfish, to Adge, so the request wasn’t made.
That, and there were things Adge didn’t need others knowing about him. Two days before the end of the Olympics, the hare had delivered his notice of resignation for his supermarket job, and had accepted a loan arranged through HoVo Management. It had been a difficult decision to make, as the hare was loathe to borrow money, and terrified of doing so while removing his only source of actual income. But it had to be done, in order to give him the best shot at proving himself in the rookie combine, and to give him his best chances of being selected in the FBA draft. The loan meant he had money, now, but nearly two weeks in Japan, after having a day to pack for that, and a full week more in the USA meant he was going to need to make some purchases.
An app-based car service picked him up out front of the hotel, and it was off to a megastore he’d spotted while out with Zack earlier. Wallah-Mart. In England, Wallah-Mart had a sort of supermarket variant called Asda, but it was more supermarket than anything, and the hare simply had to experience a true Wallah-Mart for himself.
It was true. Everything was bigger in America. Just like how the electronics store had seemed massive, Wallah-Mart appeared to stretch on forever. Even with his great height, he couldn’t see the opposite end of the store. Perhaps this wasn’t the greatest idea. But, no, he had a shopping list, and he was going to see it through. Gym bag folded in one paw to carry his purchases, Adge pulled a shopping trolley from the entryway and set about filling it.
Protein powder, shaker bottle, vitamins, pre-and-post workout supplements, he raided the athletic nutrition section, honestly impressed by the selection on offer. Then it was off for basics; toothpaste, deodorant, claw trimmers, mouthwash. Again, the selection was overwhelming, but as with many things in his life, Adge picked based on value. Yes, he had money to spend, but that didn’t mean he needed to spend it freely. On the chance he was not selected in the draft, he’d have to come up with the funds to pay back the loan, so keeping expenses to a minimum was the order of the day. Still, his teeth were worth the dollar more for better toothpaste, he imagined.
All around him, he saw shopping trolleys loaded with massive amounts of groceries, living goods, DIY supplies, and countless other things, as individuals or families did their shopping. It seemed so vastly different than his own frequent, but small shopping trips, just like so much seemed different about America. Different, yet still similar enough to be familiar. Still, he couldn’t imagine himself making massive shopping runs like that anytime soon, as he only had himself to look out for.
Athletic wear was the last order of the day, after snagging another pack of undershorts, and he rooted through the racks, attempting to find something in his size which looked decent. Three pairs of shorts, two sleeveless tees, a tank, and a running shirt. They would do. But there was a definite lack in the footwear department of the last item he needed from his list. For that, he checked out, filled his gym bag, and walked across the lot to a big-box athletics goods store.
The looks he got were immediate and scrutinizing. One of his size and build could walk into a Wallah-Mart and scarcely draw attention, but an Olympic athlete walking into a sporting goods retailer? That drew the attention of every member of staff, who all came over to see what they could do to help, despite not likely being on commission.
“Er, yeah, Ah’m lookin’ fer ‘em footpad sole ‘dhesive things?” Adge replied when asked what he was looking for by three sales clerks simultaneously.
Three pairs of eyes went to his footpaws, and Adge could practically feel the dollar signs lighting up behind them. He was escorted to the footwear department, and asked all manner of questions along the way. Was he a pro? What sport did he play? Was he in the combine? Did he see the Olympics? Did he prefer natural rubber, or synthetic rubber compounds in his soles? He answered them as best as he could, agreeing that he had seen the Olympics, but didn’t volunteer that he saw them from the viewpoint of a player. The day was already late enough, and he would need some good rest that night, so time was of the essence. Thankfully, they had exactly what he needed in stock.
Sheets of clear plastic hung from peg hooks, with what appeared to be the pads of toes and soles stuck to them in the shape of a footprint. The pads themselves were textured rubber, patterned like the soles of a court sneaker, with an adhesive backing. On the shelves next to them were spray bottles of the second part of the adhesive, which had to be sprayed onto the footpads themselves, then air for about a minute until tacky before the sole pads could be applied. The combination of adhesives bonded fast to the skin, holding with a waterproof grip which could give a full day’s use, if desired, though Adge preferred to use them only on the court. A second set of spray bottles contained the adhesive dissolvant, which always stung a bit, but broke down the bonds allowing the sole pads to be removed cleanly. At nearly ten dollars per pair, they were cheap compared to normal basketball shoes, but added up quickly when you factored in their single-use nature.
But, seeing as he didn’t know when he could next get a set, and as his remaining supply from Elion was just about exhausted, he pulled twenty sets from the racks, careful to get the XXL Lapine size, and at least most of them in red. A few blue, and one set of black were needed to round out the total count, along with a bottle each of the spray adhesive, and remover.
With a full bag, Adge caught another car back to the hotel, and turned in for the night,
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Registration, the opening speech, and a celebration dinner had been the only three things to do related to the combine on its first day, so Adge spent most of the rest of his time working with his new trainer, and practicing at the Roots Garden practice facility. While there were many smiles, and a great deal of joviality, he knew that competition would be fierce. Most everyone wanted it as bad as he did, and there might be a few who wanted it even more. But they would have to prove it on the court.
The second day of the combine began with physical exams. Adge was careful what he ate and drank before it, not wanting to skew any results. Though he did know a few minor tricks. Vitamins E and C would slow his heart rate just a touch, and lower blood pressure, if taken at the right time, and moisturizing lotion on the pads of his paws would provide the most accurate readings for body fat scans. Not that it mattered a great deal, but presenting the best possible version of himself was his goal for the combine.
Height, wingspan, those things couldn’t be helped much beyond a simple stretch, but too much and the physicians would know you were doing it, so Adge just let himself be, checking out with a clean bill of health, and a suggestion to get his missing tooth replaced with a bridge, or an implant. The basics, really.
Followed my more basics on the court. Combine entrants were grouped and pitted against each other in half-court scrimmages, attempting to balance positions when possible, and having to make due when the sheer number of each position represented didn’t add up. Adge found himself playing both shooting guard and small forward, in several matchups. Rubber-soled footpads gripped the court as he ran it, hounding the offense, and confounding the defense, while putting up a decent amount of points, himself.
In a way, nothing seemed real, as he found himself surrounded by dozens of players much like himself, yet he knew next to none of them. Recalling who was on his team at any given time would have been next to impossible without their color-coded practice jerseys, and even then it was still a whirlwind of faces and bodies. Some were there to win, others were slow-burn, while many found a middle ground. Adge didn’t know where he stood, only that at the end of the day he wanted to stand on top, so he took every chance he could find to climb.
And all too soon, a whistle was blown, signalling the end of the scrimmages. Didn’t matter if your game was over or not, everyone was done. Adge’s ears went up as a break was announced, as well as meetings with team GMs. Hurrying to down some water, the big hare was quick to get in line with any team he could, while the courts were set up for sprint trials.
With luck, he managed to speak with the GM of the hosting Taproots, on the first day, and left feeling he’d made a decent impression. But he also knew to not be late for sprint trials, and he checked the adhesion on his pad soles before being called to the line.
A hare lining up for a sprint is like watching a steel trap being set. Muscles coiled like steel cord springs in his legs, beneath his fur, and his eyes were fixed not on the finish line, but beyond it. Perfectly poised, he tilted his ears back for less wind resistance, and listened for the start whistle.
The moment it sounded, Adge was off like a shot, springing forward! Each step vaulted him further and faster, head down, large body compact as he bounded ahead across the line, not beginning to decelerate until well after crossing it… after nearly all of his competition. 3.67 seconds. The second slowest guard of the combine, and not worthy of earning a single point. And that was it, one shot, abject failure.
Frustrated, the hare shook his head. He should have done better. He couldn’t afford another failure like that. Failing straight out of the gate was a surefire way to virtually guarantee that scouts, coaches, and GMs wouldn’t even be considering you, and all eyes were on a slew of other guards instead of himself. Maybe he could claw back some points in the strength test.
Maybe if all the centers dropped out, at least. Pacing off the court, Adge grabbed up his water bottle, trying to sort out some kind of strategy for the strength test, but he knew it was simply a matter of endurance. Couldn’t exactly study for that, other than sessions at the gym. And after being slower than each one of his test sprints with his trainer, Adge wondered if his workouts were going to do him any good, either.
The basics. These were all tests of the basics, and he was supposed to be good at those. He made an Olympic team for crying out loud; shouldn’t that mean he was good at the basics?
When his name was called for the strength test, Adge took to the weight bench. Paws grasping the bar, he told himself he was ready for this. He should be able to push through his limits, and make up lost ground.
21 reps. Not even close to his record. There was no smile, no look of achievement on his face as he got up after re-racking the bar, just a shake of his head as he walked away. At the end of the day, he’d scored a measly 26 points, landing him in 33rd place in the combine. Not even top half. Shaking his head, he returned to his room until it was time for the financial planning seminar, which was sadly looking to be the high point of his day.
It was. While most everyone else was spacing out, or playing with their phones, Adge was busy taking notes on his new laptop, and adding columns to a spreadsheet on the other half of his screen. His paw went up a few times for questions, some of which the speaker didn’t have terribly good answers to. Most of the seminar was basic information, but it was still good information to have, and Adge knew he was going to have to look into tax laws in the USA and Canada, to ensure his own financial planning was going to be wise, knowing they were different than British tax law in may ways.
And, after the seminar, he neatly closed his laptop and returned to his room. The day had been a disaster - a televised disaster - and all he could do was reflect on it. At least he hadn’t worn his Olympic training kit. Showing off like that, while posting such pathetic time, and fewer reps than he wanted, was the sort of hollow boast no one ever lets you forget. No, it would be basic, no-name athletic wear for the rest of the combine. Better to be humble and possibly impress, than to be a braggart who fails.
As the clock hit ten, the hare finally ventured out of his room again, knowing he at least needed dinner, but he took his laptop with him, continuing to write an email to his family, unsure if it would ever be sent. Crab cakes and roast vegetables sounded good enough, and he ate mechanically as he continued to write.
“Can’t sleep, either?”
A voice pulled Adge out of his own little world, and he looked over to see Callum Williamson there, the wallaby pulling up a seat at his table in the hotel restaurant.
“Still not ‘justed to ‘e toime zone, Ah reckon,” Adge replied, leaning back from his laptop. “Or, maybe moy nerves is jes’ runnin’ hoigh. ‘Ard t’ believe ‘e comboine’s already started.” The time zone had nothing to do with his current restlessness, but it was at least a convenient cover for the frustration he felt inside.
Before Callum could reply, Blake Kelly wandered in as well. “Wait, it ain’t just me up, this late?” The buck asked. Adge nodded toward another seat at the table for him to join, if he wished, and Blake obliged.
“Not t’noight, at least,” Adge replied. “A’h ‘bout t’ ‘ave some o’ ‘e cobber, Ah think. Needs a proper pudding after a day loike t’day.”
Blake nodded, seating himself at the table in the otherwise lonely restaurant. “Oh yes! Sugar: ben holdin’ off the stuff until after the physicals.”
The hare snorted a bit of a chuckle. “Ah been trainin’ b’fore ‘n after each day since Ah got ‘ere. ‘N after all ‘at seems t’ ‘ave done me no good, reckon Ah’ve earned a bit o’ sweet.” Raising his paw, he politely flagged down the water in order to obtain a copy of the dessert menu. Ready to go for the apple cobbler, he changed his mind when he saw the daily special: rhubarb crumble. Brown eyes lighting up, he went for that, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, before extending the menu to his new companions. “Yew lads want summat, too?”
Blake took the menu gladly. “Yes, yes, and yes please! Been waiting for a month for something sweet! Cutting as hard as I’ve been sucks.”
Callum blushed at Blake’s comment, having not been holding back on the goodies, especially after being eliminated at the Olympics. But coming in second overall in the combine, so far, was reason enough to celebrate. At least a little.
“My weight’s already in the books, so time to treat myself,” Blake carried on as he continued to scan the menu. “Cookies, brownies… so many good things…”
Having no qualms about ordering at the moment, Callum didn’t need to peruse the menu, recalling an earlier treat. “I wonder if there’s any of that Bailey’s cheesecake left.
“Brownie sundae’s speakin’ to me,” Blake announced. “Yet… I also want a cookie, too. Screw it, why not both?”
The waiter took their orders, and headed off to the kitchen, only to return shortly with a tray bearing each of their selections. Adge smiled and nodded in thanks, as he always seemed to when given something. Rustic manners appeared to be as much of his DNA as his size. Taking up his fork, the hare dug off a corner of the rhubarb crumble, and takes a bite.
Immediately his eyes close, and the hare breathes a deep sigh of contentment, his broad shoulders falling. “That’s proper good,” he says afterward, making sure his next forkful has an equal amount of ice cream to go with it. “Little taste o’ home.”
Blake licked his lips, seeing the sundae before him, but before digging his spoon in, he crumbled the thick, chocolate chip cookie into it. Scooping up a big bite, he grinned as the cool sweetness rolled around on his tongue. “Just like the old ice cream shop back in Rosewood. Even got gummi worms in it!”
Callum’s slice of cheesecake came with a boozy milkshake, courtesy of the bartender he had been firting with the night before. Glancing over at Adge, he nodded. “Aye, that’s got the markings of a good dessert, right there. This place is pretty accommodating; I wonder what the FBA paid to rent it out?”
Looking at Callum’s cheesecake and milkshake combo, Blake chuckled. “And I thought I was going overboard with a cookie on top. Seems I’m not the biggest sinner tonight.”
“Ah don’ even wants ter think ‘bout ‘at koind of money,” Adge replied to Callum’s ponderation. “This be more lush ‘n ‘e ‘Lympic Village. More stressful, though.”
Blake criped his eyebrow, looking over. “How so? I mean, I don’t got anything to compare it to, so, it’s not like I’d know.” Callum shrugged off the comment about his high-calorie selection. “It’s not that bad - I’ll burn it off tomorrow, anyway. As for the lodgings, it’s also a lot fewer people, for only just a few days.”
Adge nodded. “In ‘e ‘Lympics, yew ‘ad a team t’ cover yer mistakes, ‘n only one game e’ry other day. B’tween weren’t ‘s much pracc’is as ‘ee’d loike, ‘n heaps o’ down toime. ‘Ere? Yer bein’ watched ‘n judged er’y second. Soized up boy ‘e teams t’ see if’n yer good ‘nuff fer ‘em. ‘N if’n yer not, well, ‘ee best gwan ‘ome, then, ‘n pick some new dream.”
“A new dream?” Blake balked. “People say basketball’s the only thing they wanna do. Well, I say screw that, Basketball IS all I want to do.” He accented his point by digging his spoon fiercely into his sundae.
After swallowing a savory bite of his rhubarb crumble, Adge shrugged. “Ah didn’ say it were noice, or what ‘ee wants t’ ‘ear, but it’s ‘e truth, tis. More ‘f us ‘ere ‘an there is draft picks. Couple moight get lucky as walk-ons, but tis math, pure’n simple. Ah wants t’ get soigned, Ah wants it proper bad, Ah does. But Ah ain’t so naive t’ think ‘at jes’ because Ah wants summat means Ah’ll get it. Live be full o’ things ‘ee want, but ain’t ne’er gon’ ‘ave.” His tone turned slightly bitter toward the end, his poor performance that day wearing on his confidence.
Blake shook his head. “I can’t go back, though. I don’t wanna get stuck in some paper-pushing political job. God bless my pops for doin’ it, though. I’m probably the only member of my family that ain’t a politician or military star.”
Callum nodded in agreement, yet had surprisingly very little to say about the subject.
Adge tapped the tines of his fork against his plate, staring at the remains of his dessert instead of his companions. “‘At said, Ah reckon’ there’s a decent chance Ah still get in, while yew two’s in wit’ ‘e shout. Yer pal, Bertie, too, Callum. Ah ‘magine, at least.”
“Yeah,” Callum said. “It’s gonna be weird playing against him. We’ve spent the last four years learning to play well with each other.”
Blake nodded as well. “Yeah, I’ve got my college teammates in here with me. Likely we’re going separate ways, now. Not to mention my ex-boyfriend’s already got a season on me in the league…”
“Ah know wot yew mean,” Adge replied. “Be proper strange playin’ ‘gainst Arther, if’n Ah go up ‘gainst ‘im. Bein’ on ‘e team wit’ ‘im at ‘e ‘Lypics were loike old toimes at Elion. But ‘es ‘e ‘only feller Ah know proper in ‘e FBA. Or ‘ere, even. Yew lot is in proper ‘vantage, several of yew knowin’ each other, ‘n ‘e loike.”
“More likely you’ll be facing him than not, unless the ‘Shiners take you,” Blake shrugged, his spoon digging near the bottom of his sundae dish. “Much as I’m hoping they’ll call my name. I remember meeting Arty in fan access, by the way; wallflower, but a good guy, overall.”
Callum smirked. “Actually, Berty was the only person I knew. Everyone else here, I just sort of knew about? At least not until recently.”
“Roight now, yew two, ‘n ‘at beaver, Zack, is ‘e closest things Ah got t’ friends, here,” Adge stated, then he chuckled. “Yew know Ah done ‘ad someone ask me wot team Ah’ don’ want t’ be on? Laff. Loike Ah’d ‘ave a choice in ‘e matter, anyway.”
“You never know who’s listening,” Callum replied. “And who knows, maybe you’ll get your wish for what team you DO want to be on if you put it out in the universe?”
“Exactly,” Blake nodded. “Hence why I said I’d love to be a ‘Shiner. Much as my pops would love to see me as a Minuteman.”
A snort of derision fired from Adge’s velvety nose. “If’n Ah could play wit’ ‘e stuck-up, hoity-toity, filthy rich twat-waddles at Elion, Ah reckon Ah c’n play wit’ anyone, if Ah’s is given a chance.”
“Long as they respect my skill, play your part and I play mine,” Blake said, his spoon scraping what it could out of the bottom of his dish.
Callum leaned back in his chair, smiling. “I think I wouldn’t mind Hawaii, myself. Warm beaches, hot guys, that would be the life. Also, love their colors, ha ha.”
Blake smiled as well. “For me, the ‘Shiners because Teronura and Carpenter played there. Love to wear the same uniforms as they did.”
Adge’s mind weighed itself more to the practical side of things, and he replied “‘E floights to ‘n from Hawaii moight get old, moind. ‘N it can’t be cheap t’ live there, noighter. Would be noice t’ visit Hawaii, though. Ain’t never been nowhere with a proper good beach.”
“Sure, not matter what, the flights would get old,” Blake agreed.
Callum nodded as well. “No, but seriously, it’s a long way to Hawaii.”
“Speakin’ of floights, Ah’m off t’ Las Vegas, after ‘e comboine is over. Ah’ll be there ‘til ‘e draft. ‘N after that, Ah’ll foinally get t’ go back ‘ome. Be a dull month Ah’ve been gone, boy ‘e toime Ah get back,” Adge sighed.
“I really gotta see my pops, again,” Blake said. “Him and Avery, make sure she gets settled in at college, and all. Lest I can do for her.”
Nudging his thumb toward the still-open laptop, Adge said, “Ah were writin’ a letter to moy fam’ly. Ain’t seen ‘em since moy graduation in ‘e Spring. ‘Ey wants me t’ come ‘ome ‘n celebrate ‘e ‘Lympics, but Ah’m ‘ere ‘til after ‘e draft. Though reckon Ah moight be ‘eaded ‘ome t’ stay after ‘e omnishambles of a display Ah put up t’day.”
Callum punched him lightly in the shoulder for that comment. “Come on, it’s the first day. Plenty of time to come back from it!” The wallaby said.
Adge knew he meant well, but his mind simply wasn’t in the mood to accept encouragement, as it all felt like pity at the moment. “Only if’n Ah’m worth it,” he replied. His dessert finished, and his laptop going to sleep after having been untouched for a while, the hare was reminded that he needed sleep as well. Closing the computer and picking it up, he rose form the table and pushed his chair in.
“Ah best be gettin’ some sleep, if’n Ah’m gon’ mount moy comeback t’morrer,” he said. “Thankee koindly fer ‘avin’ puddin’ wit’ me, ‘n yew two get some rest too, y’hear?”
Blake and Callum bid him good night, and the hare headed back upstairs. In his mind, all he could do was imagine how to best perfect everything he needed to do the next day. Then it realized it had done the same thing today, and he’d still fallen well short of expectations, so he turned his mind off completely, and hit the hay.
Sleep was another basic which every player needed, after all.