Boys and girls weren’t friends, not that I remember. But we were. We played basketball, one on one. I wasn’t so tall then, in third or fourth grade, and Laura was tall already. She already had those strong legs, that would make her a good runner. Sometimes in the summer if she wasn’t working she wore shorts and when she jumped I’d look at those strong legs, amazing long legs. Neither of us could quite dunk, but she could get closer. She was always practicing. I rode my bike over there. She had a basket on a pole over near the barn, in a corner of the drive. It wasn’t the greatest court. It wasn’t paved. A strip of hard bare ground that would turn to slop when it rained hard, splash mud all over you if you tried to dribble on it. We tried that once, got our shoes and our legs and our jeans all muddy. Her mother said she was going to “tan her hide.” I wasn’t sure what making your skin tan was supposed to be bad. That court was tough, too, even when it was dry. It had gravel and rocks in it here and there. Sometimes you’d be dribbling and the ball would suddenly shoot out sideways. She was always quickest to jump for it. I had a better court at my house but neither of us ever wanted to play there. My dad would come home from work sometimes and want to play against us, and he wouldn’t stop until he was winning. He was taller than us by at least a head so it was pretty easy for him to block anything, or even to shoot over our heads. Game over when he was ahead and then he’d quit and go inside.
We never played during the college or the pro basketball season. We only had outdoor courts and it was no good once the snow started. It was a summer and fall game. It’s amazing, now that I think of it, that I ever became a basketball player, and that she never wanted to. I think I started playing because of her. I liked being there with her, bumping together to guard the basket or to shoot over each other. Later he parents kind of freaked out when we started going out and they knew we were touching each other and stuff. Somehow I guess they thought kids didn’t do that, just sat apart with their hands on their knees in the dark when they went out to Jericho Theater or when we went down to the lake to go swimming together in the summer. Maybe people did that back when they were growing up but probably only if they were weird. What did they think would come of it, all those years we played together, especially basketball, playing so hard against each other late on summer afternoons. I keep wanting to ask Mr. Nilsson about that, but then I don’t. He misses her and I know he feels bad for how it went the last time he saw her. Not good to remind him of that time when they were kinda stupid.