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Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws
By Janette Rallison
Walker & Company Copyright © 2004 Janette Rallison
All right reserved.
Chapter One Josie
There are three times in life when it's important not to trip: when you're going for the tie-breaking layup in a basketball game, when you're walking down the aisle on your wedding day, and when your English teacher asks you to hand out textbooks-and you're about to give one to Ethan Lancaster.
I knew this. I actually thought about it as I was walking toward him, which is probably what doomed me. It's like typing. I can do it if I don't think about it. As soon as I start to think about where my fingers are placed on the keyboard, I create words that look like space-alien vocabulary.
CAMI'S LAST IM TO ME: Hey, Josie. How's it going?
ME: Really hppf smf upi.
Ever since I started my freshman year I've tried to create an image of sophistication and mystique to impress Ethan, all to have it ruined in one day.
Two feet away from his desk, I tripped. My entire armful of American Poetry: A Viewpoint went flying into the air. I think one may have hit Ethan, but I'm not sure because by then my viewpoint was an extreme close-up of the floor. I was just doing my best not to roll under Ashley Holt's desk.
Everyone in the class stopped talking and stared at me. Mrs. Detwiler shuffled over to help me up, which was a good thing, since all Ashley did was look down at me. Ashley is good at looking down at people, so this shouldn't have surprised me.
Mrs. Detwiler helped me to my feet. Her lips pressed together in a frown. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Or at least I would be when everyone stopped staring at me. The stinging in the palms of my hands and the pain in my side were probably not permanent things.
"You need to be more careful, or you're going to hurt yourself."
Right. Thank you, Mrs. Detwiler. I would have never come to that conclusion by myself. I was planning on incorporating a back flip into my next walk across the classroom, but on second thought ...
I reached down and picked my books up off the floor. You'd think since everyone had just witnessed my spectacular dive, the people around me would offer to help me pick up books.
All the kids nearby sat in their seats watching me like they were waiting to see if I had enough coordination to walk and pick up books at the same time. Perhaps they were checking to see if I was about to make a tripping encore.
Mrs. Detwiler picked up a few books and went to the next aisle to pass them out. Cami came from the other side of the room to help me pick up the rest. She handed a couple of them out to the students around us but didn't give one to Ethan.
She knows I have a thing for him.
I walked up to him again, a book in my outstretched arm.
"I already have one," he said. "I picked up one that slid under my desk."
I passed out the remaining books, then retreated to my desk to listen to Mrs. Detwiler's lecture about our new poetry unit.
I didn't dare look at Ethan. I didn't dare look at anyone. Mrs. Detwiler droned on about assonance and alliteration, and how when she was in school students were required to memorize pages of poetry, and she could still recite Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" word for word. And then she did-staring at us wide-eyed and occasionally waving one hand around for emphasis.
She finished the poem with a smug smile, even though I could see no conceivable advantage to memorizing pages of poetry when you can look up anything online. I mean, if by some chance you were ever walking around thinking, Hey, I sure would like to read a poem about spooky ravens, you probably could find a whole flock of them at birdpoetry.com.
Still, Mrs. Detwiler told us we not only had to memorize poems, we had to write three poems about ourselves by the end of the month and recite one of them.
There was a collective groan from the class, which only made Mrs. Detwiler click her tongue as though we'd severely disappointed her. "If I could do it in the ninth grade, so can you. And who knows, perhaps when you're forty, you'll still remember it."
Actually, I was hoping my teenage memories would have little to do with poetry. I would rather remember being suddenly popular, indispensable to the basketball team, and having a conversation with Ethan that didn't happen after I took a nosedive in front of his desk.
As Mrs. Detwiler went on about the power of poetry, one thought ran through my mind. What did I have to do-how could I change myself into someone Ethan liked?
After basketball practice, Josie and I did our homework at my house and then went outside to shoot some more hoops. As we played, Josie talked about Ethan (as usual), and I talked about Rebecca Lobo's visit in a month (as usual).
Rebecca Lobo has been my idol since I started playing basketball at age eight. She's retired from the WNBA now, but I still think she's the greatest. When she ran down the court, it looked like the basketball was a part of her, as though she didn't have to think to play.
Rebecca was also an old college friend of our freshman coach, Mrs. Melbourne. The coach is very proud of the fact that they played together in Connecticut, and she has two Rebecca Lobo posters and a framed Connecticut Sun shirt in her office. The coach also tells us Rebecca stories and Rebecca updates, and since Rebecca is coming to Phoenix for a vacation this winter, Coach Melbourne made her promise to drive out to Sanchez for a visit.
Coach Melbourne has had an extra strut in her walk ever since. She got Rebecca to agree to speak to the audience at halftime about the importance of girls' sports programs. But the really wonderful thing is this-Rebecca said she'd run some basketball drills using a girl from each team to help her demonstrate.
Coach Melbourne said our team's MVP would have the honor. We all figured that meant the high-scoring player.
There are very few girls on the team who can outshoot me. Josie is one of them.
I dribbled the ball, taking small steps that led me nowhere, waiting for the right moment to rush past Josie for a layup. "In thirty-four days one of us could be doing this with Rebecca Lobo." Dribble. Dribble. "Do you suppose the WNBA recruits fourteen-year-olds? We could drop out of high school and take up a career as shooting stars."
Josie stood in front of me with her arms stretched out, but hardly seeing me. "I should have turned the whole thing into a joke. I should have looked up at Ethan and said, 'Well, another girl has fallen for you.' I mean, if you can laugh at yourself, people think you're cool. Otherwise you just look like a klutz." She cocked her head. "Do you think Ethan thinks I'm a klutz?"
"I think Ethan has forgotten the whole thing. And speaking of forgetting, don't let me forget to bring my video camera when Rebecca comes. I want to make sure someone records Rebecca and me playing together."
With the exception of my grandmother, Josie is the only person who calls me Camilla. She says it's a pretty name, so I don't stop her.
I rushed down to the basket, jumped, and shot. The ball hit the backboard and ricocheted to Josie. She dribbled back to half court, laughing. "Don't get your camera out yet."
I put my arms out, guarding her. "I'll make the next one."
"Maybe, but I'll still be the team's high scorer, because you can't sink a free throw to save your life."
This was not exactly true. If my life depended on it, I'd probably be able to make a free throw.
Josie pivoted around me, took four steps toward the basket, and produced a perfect layup.
I dribbled the ball back to the white painted line on the driveway that represented the free-throw line. I concentrated, aimed-already making the shot in my mind. Unfortunately, that was the only place I made the shot. The ball hit high on the backboard and bounced down to Josie. She walked over next to me, tossed the ball toward the basket, and smiled as it swished through.
"Teach me how to do that," I said.
Josie shrugged. "You point. You shoot. What's there to teach?"
Which was the really annoying thing about Josie. Her basketball skill didn't come from practice, it just happened. The ball liked her better.
I worked harder. I'd been playing longer. In fact, I was the one who got Josie involved in basketball in the first place. I made her start shooting hoops with me back in the sixth grade after my former best friend, Ashley Holt, and I stopped speaking to each other.
And Josie was better than I was.
I went and grabbed the ball, walked it back to the free-throw line, and took another shot. It bounced once on the rim, then fell off the basket and rolled into the bushes.
"It isn't fair," I said. "I have posters of Rebecca Lobo all over my bedroom wall. What do you have on your wall?"
"I watched every game she was in, and you watched her games when?"
"When there wasn't something better on cable."
I tossed up my hands. "Do you see my point?"
Josie went and grabbed the ball from the bushes. "So what do you want me to do about it? Miss shots on purpose so you have a better chance at MVP?"
"Yes. You could also feed the ball to me more, and help me work on my free throw after basketball practice."
"I can't do that very often. I've got homework to do. And besides, I've decided to take up shopping." She said this as though it were a new religion.
"Shopping for what?"
"Clothes. I need a new image, one Ethan will notice. Right now I have no flair. No pizzazz. Ashley has designer everything."
Ashley also had streaked blond hair, the body of a swimsuit model, and a face straight off a Barbie doll. She could have worn nothing but old newspapers held together with Scotch tape, and she would have received more attention from guys than the rest of us in school.
You couldn't compete with Ashley; you just had to settle for the leftovers in the guy department. Personally, I put guys into two categories. The guys who are Ashlified-meaning they have recently dated, are dating, or hope to be dating Ashley, and thus consider the rest of us not up to their standard-and the regular guys.
Ethan was definitely Ashlified. He and Ashley were the constant on-again, off-again, item. Plus Josie idolized Ethan, so he was off-limits to me, even if he did have thick, wavy brown hair, gorgeous blue eyes, and a locker so close to mine that I saw him every day. He usually came by while I was getting my books out before first period, and I'd position myself in front of my locker, shifting things back and forth on the shelf while I watched him out of the corner of my eye.
Sometimes he smiled at me, and when he did, I always smiled back, but I never told Josie that. She wouldn't understand. Well, actually-she would understand, and probably hate me for it.
The problem was, I hadn't started out liking Ethan. At first he was just that good-looking but annoyingly arrogant boy Josie liked. Now somehow he'd become ultra-good-looking. So good-looking that the arrogant thing just seemed natural.
Who wouldn't be arrogant when they were handsome, popular, and had been captain of both the football and basketball teams?
Every time he was around I suddenly became acutely aware of how I was standing; what I was saying. I worried if my hair was in place or my mascara was smeared. I wanted him to notice me but then hoped he wouldn't.
I'd been Ethanized.
Around Josie, I went out of my way to pretend I didn't like him. If I acted like I didn't like him, then eventually it would be the truth. Crushes were temporary things, like the flu. You just had to live through them.
I shrugged at Josie and held the basketball under the crook of my arm. "You don't need to spend your time shopping. Ethan is a guy. He's won't notice what you wear unless it's made from wild animals, is covered with the answers to the next algebra test, or is on fire."
"But Ashley wears-"
"Girls wear nice clothes to impress other girls. Guys don't notice those things. Trust me, I have an older brother. Save your money and help me work on my free throws. We'll both be happier."
"Maybe I should buy makeup then, or perfume, or change my hair." She pulled her long brown hair out of its ponytail. "Do you think I should get a perm?"
I double-bounced the ball while I thought. "You don't need to spend money on stuff to get Ethan to notice you. I can help you with that. I live with a guy, so I know how they think. Coach me on my free throws, and I'll coach you on Ethan."
Josie put her hand on her hip, but didn't outright question my abilities.
"I'll prove I know what I'm talking about." I motioned for Josie to follow me to my front porch. Once she got there, I opened the door, and we stepped into our family room. Kevin, my sixteen-year-old brother, was lying on the couch watching television and flipping potato chips into his mouth.
"Hey, Kevin, you know Diane, that girl you like?"
He didn't look away from the television. "Yeah."
"Did you see her today?"
"What color shirt did she wear?"
He snorted, then shoved another chip in his mouth. "I don't know."
"See," I told Josie. "Spend your time helping me practice free throws." I opened the front door to go out, but she hesitated in the family room, then took a step closer to Kevin. "What about her perfume? Did you notice what she smelled like? Or her eye shadow-was it the frosty kind, or the muted kind?"
Kevin glanced over his shoulder at us. "You two are so weird."
I took Josie's arm and pulled her from the room and back outside. After the front door was shut firmly behind us, I leaned up against it. "What did I tell you? I know how guys think."
"All right, if you understand guys, what do I need to do to get Ethan's attention?"
I held my hand out as though making a deal. "You help me on my free throws-help me get the MVP spot-and I'll help get Ethan to notice you."
Josie picked up the ball from where I'd left it on the porch and bounced it twice. "Notice me how? I mean, he noticed me today. He noticed that I fell on the ground."
"He'll notice you're beautiful, talented, and smart. I guarantee you'll have at least three conversations with him before Rebecca comes, or you can refuse to throw me the ball."
Josie reached out and shook my hand.
Which meant I had a shot at playing with Rebecca, or at least I would if I could get Ethan to talk to Josie.
Chapter Two Josie
I thought about Ethan for the rest of the night-which was not out of the ordinary, except this time, as I pictured him sitting in class, his bangs falling across his forehead in that slightly mussed way, I wondered if what Cami said could be true.
Excerpted from Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws by Janette Rallison Copyright © 2004 by Janette Rallison. Excerpted by permission.
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