Chapter 29:

Beneath Her Mask

Would You Paint My Dunk

My days went as usual, nothing out of the ordinary. Whether it was classes, basketball practice, basketball matches, or escorting her home, I went through them like I used to.

If there's one thing I could mention, it's that we talked a lot as I walked her home each night. I started to become accustomed to this, and was no longer nervous when I walked side by side with her.

Wednesday, September 27th 2023. It was the date when I had to attend Professor Jensen’s history class again.

I gave the professor my completed assignment when he started the class, exhaling my relief after giving him the fruit of my… Ahem… Our efforts until now. It wouldn’t be fair if I cross Jessica out from this, as her contribution is the reason why I finished that huge task in the first place.

After the long, boring class ended, I went to the cafeteria to look for food. I looked for her and Carlos, but I couldn’t find him.

With only Jessica sitting beside me, we had a pleasant talk after finishing our meal. The atmosphere was lively, not only because of the crowded ambience near us, but because of how she smiled and laughed as our conversation went by.

When the lunch break was over, we attended class as usual. At five, I went to my basketball club to practice, only to see Carlos was there. I walked up to him and waved.

“Carlos, I didn’t see you in the cafeteria earlier. Were you busy or something?”

“Yo’, Keith! I just thought that you two needed some space. I shouldn’t interrupt you two when you two are hitting it off.”

Knowing that we aren’t really dating, I shook my head in response.

“Wait Carlos! We aren’t like that!”

“I’m so jealous, man. I wonder when my time will come…” Carlos replied as he looked down.

I remembered again that we had yet to introduce Carlos, and I somehow felt bad about him.

However, before I could say anything, the coach blew his whistle and told us bad news.

“Everyone, starting from now on, Alex Jefferson is no longer a part of our team. He told me that he wanted to focus on his studies, and wished to leave the team. He thanked me for everything and left.”

I heard people around me murmuring, talking to each other. But it was inaudible enough that I couldn’t hear clearly anything they said.

Just like a lion roaring to show his superiority, the coach blew his whistle again, turning the rowdy atmosphere to complete silence before he continued.

“Look, I won’t say anything about your university life. You can leave the club as you wish, you can practice hard or just play around, but…”

He paused for a while, before he shouted at a high tone.

“If you think that getting drafted is that easy, then you are mistaken. Thousands of players tried to get drafted each year, but only a few would be chosen. Even if you are in a division one team, you must not let yourself be conceited. You have to work hard to achieve your dreams.”

He walked around as he went on.

“Even as a reserve, you have to fight your way into the roster. If you are quitting just because you can’t play in matches, then you may as well stop your dream of being a professional basketball player. You won’t succeed with that mentality.”

Right! I’m still here, trying to fight my way into the roster. I won’t give up yet!

“And also, I don’t want to teach any weak-willed players on my wings. Is that clear?”

Hearing the coach's question, we all shouted firmly at the same time.

“Yes, coach!”

“Okay, let’s start the drills!”

Fired up by the coach, we continued our practice until seven o’clock.

With the club coming to an end, I began my daily escort mission again.

As we walked through the glittering streets, we talked as if there were no barriers between us. Feeling comfortable around her, I wished that time would stop so that we could talk more face to face.

However, there’s always an end to good things. We had arrived at her residence, and all we could do was to wave each other goodbyes and go our way.

After dropping her off, I headed straight back home. I took a bath, went down for dinner and talked with my parents for a little while. I returned the bulky laptop back to my dad and bowed in gratitude before I went to my room upstairs.

Well, it’s time for her nightly call, I guess a message will pop up soon.

And I was right, she messaged me, asking if it’s okay to call. I replied with ‘Go ahead.’, and we started to talk as usual. Suddenly, I heard a door banging sound from the phone, followed by the sound of a grown woman with a high tone.

“Jessica! I saw a boy escorting you home. Can you explain what this means?”

The sound wasn’t so clear, indicating the distance between her and the phone, but I could hear everything. Then, it was followed by Jessica’s voice, but I could feel her being sad by her tone alone.

“Mom, he is…”

“I tried to get your free time and get your busy uncle to teach you and give you an insider lane, and look what you are doing with those free time? Playing around and getting on dates! You are already eighteen! You are an adult! Think about your future and stop wasting time!”


Wait, did she just sniff?

I didn’t hear it wrong. She is sniffing as her mother continues to scold her.

“Can’t you take the example of that honor student, Alicia Cromwell? She has perfect grades and a bright future, unlike you, who keeps wasting your time fooling around and trying useless things that don't make money.”

“Mom… What have I done wrong? I enrolled in economics like you wanted, I just learned painting as a hobby…”

“As if your trashy painting could do something! Why won’t you just follow your parent’s advice and become a good girl for once? You would be set for life if you just follow your uncle's footsteps. Stop being stubborn with your arts, grow up!”

She started sobbing, and it doesn't help that whoever seemed to be her mother is putting more weight on her shoulders instead of calming her down.

“I’ll get your uncle to spare some time from his work in the bank. Remember, he is a high-level manager, don’t you dare waste his time. I hope you don’t disappoint us.”


That was a huge door slam sound. It was so loud that I could hear it clearly from my phone. I realized that this is what she desperately tried to hide from everyone, masking her misery beneath her fake smiles.

To be honest, listening to their conversation made my blood boil. I couldn’t fathom why a mother would dictate how her daughter should live her life, but I refrained myself from commenting and decided to console her instead.

However, before I could say anything, she started apologizing to me with a somber tone.

Sniff… Keith, I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to end the call and had you heard that. Sniff… I had to hide this phone below my pillow so she wouldn't find out. Sniff… I guess I won’t be able to watch your basketball anymore, and I won’t be able to practice my painting too. Sniff… Thank you, Keith. It was a pleasure spending this month with you…”

Thinking about how I can relieve her burden, I suddenly became enlightened. With a tranquil mind, I spoke my mind to her.

“Jessica, I’m sorry if I’m poking my nose into something I shouldn’t, but I think I need to say this. As she said, you are already an adult. You are responsible for yourself, and no one else can decide how you live your life. Not me, not your parents, only you.”

“While I’d say there’s nothing wrong with learning from your uncle who works at a bank or whatever, you shouldn’t stop your passion just because your parents disagree. If you want to paint, then keep painting in your free time. Don’t let others rule over your life.”

Sniff… Even if my painting skill is totally trash?” She asked.

“Yes!” I affirmed her. “Even if your work amounts to nothing at the moment, you will succeed one day. I mean, look at me. I’m still at the reserve, still fighting my way up ‘till this day. But I’m steadily improving, and it's just a matter of time until I finally get a spot to play.”

“Although we aren’t those who run like hares, we could be the persistent turtle who still slowly made the finish line. Don’t give up on your dreams, Jess! Just like me who will get drafted one day, you will also become a good painter. I know it!”

Following my assurance, I could hear her snort from here.

“Pfft! Keith, are you a motivator or something? You should have applied for TV’s public shows instead of trying to become a basketball player, ha-ha.”

Heh, I guess that managed to cheer her up a bit, given she had the gall to joke around.

My assumption is not for nothing. While it was subtle, her tone had become lighter. Just like if I had given her the final push, she made a resolution for herself.

“Anyway. I’ll do as you suggested and spend my time learning with my uncle. Even though I wouldn’t be able to see your basketball practice and matches anymore, I’ll still root for you. Once again, thank you for your words of encouragement. I meant it.”

I see… I guess I’ll see her less and I won't walk her back home like we used to, but it can’t be helped. I have to understand her situation.

With the night still young, we continued to talk as her mood steadily improved over time. When the clock reached ten, we said each other goodbyes and hung up the call.

I laid myself on the bed and tossed my phone aside. Looking at the ceiling, I wondered if I did the right thing. I know that’s the best I could do at that time, I didn’t even believe myself could make such a speech.

However, a seed of doubt started to seep in my brain. As a sense of uneasiness began to fill my heart, I started putting myself on her boots.

What would I want from my close friend on the phone? What would I have done when arguing with my mom?

Aghhh!!! I can’t think straight. Furthermore, I’m not a girl, I couldn’t think from her perspective. Whatever! What’s done is done. Nothing can be done with spilled milk. I need to stop thinking about it and sleep.

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