Murph swoops in and picks up my airball on the first bounce, then extends his leaping body and flips the ball up and behind him, his perfectly executed reverse layup kissing the acrylic backboard and landing softly into the goal’s nylon netting. I find myself admiring him a moment, his lean muscles fitting perfectly in his navy blue shorts, gray wicking muscle shirt, white crew socks and green sneakers; I know it’s not possible, but there doesn’t appear to be any fat on his body. And though the overhead lights glisten the sweat on his face and arms, his hair remains perfectly parted, its streaks of gray suggesting experience rather than age.
We shoot around for about a minute, and after finally managing to make a shot I remember why I had arrived early. I’m about to ask Murph how long he had been married, when he cuts me off while firing a jumper — “How’s Darci these days?”
I’m annoyed, since I’m the one who needs to be asking the questions. But there’s no way Murph would know that, and even suspected my impatience could throw off this conversation. “She’s fine.” I launch a set shot which clanks off the rim, as Murph picks up a loose ball; I’m about to ask the same question about Steph, but he intercepts again — “Still thinking about proposing to her?”
I stare at him a moment, as basketballs bounce lightly around me. What was it — three, four weeks ago, Murph saw my distraction during one of our chess matches, and I’d admitted to thinking Darci and I either needed to get married, or split. Oddly enough, it was also one of the few times I’d beaten him. A ball nudges my right leg, and I shake my head. “You know, I’ve been having second thoughts. I mean, we got a good thing going as it is — why complicate our relationship?” I dribble towards the hoop and then leap for a layup, which bounces too hard and high off the backboard, touching nothing on its way down.
I’m standing under the hoop, as Murph fires a 10-foot jumper. “There are other considerations, you know.” His shot touches nothing but net — whoosh; the ball falls into my arms, and in accordance with the you make it you take it ethos of the shootaround, bounce the ball over to where he’s now standing, at the free-throw line.
He pauses, stares down the hoop, and fires his shot. “Security.” Whoosh. He gathers in my pass, and backs up behind the three-point line.
“Social acceptance.” Whoosh.
He walks in a few steps, turns his back to the hoop. “An end to rumors.” He leaps, spins, fires. Whoosh.
He picks up my pass, begins dribbling across the top of the key. “People stop with the probing questions.” A running hook shot — whoosh.
I’m mesmerized, unable to do anything other than continue feeding the ball to Murph; I lose track of how many shots he makes in a row, but I feel his every word searing into memory. A baseline jumper, no backboard support — “People assume they know all they need to know about you.” Whoosh.
Four feet behind the three-point line. “You’re married — which means you’re something.” Whoosh.
Back at the free-throw line. “But in a way — ” he closes his eyes, shoots — “it’s like you’re nobody at all.” Whoosh.
Two guys approach our end of the court, call out to Murph, and I recognize their faces from work. We have enough to play against the guys on the other end of the court, and the rest of the evening is a blur, as I focus on keeping up; I’m the weakest player, but play well enough to earn some nods of respect. Another player from work arrives, and Murph excuses himself, explaining he needs to be up early tomorrow morning; I consider leaving as well, but dropping out now would be awkward, and letting Murph know I was following him would be even more awkward.