Chapter 32:

One Step Closer

Would You Paint My Dunk


From that day, things started to change. My lonely morning was long gone as she accompanied me on my jogging routine. She took her lunch with me again, and at night, she began to call me just like before. While the duration wasn’t like we used to be, I’m already grateful to be able to listen to her voice.

Even after seeing her in a new light, I decided to maintain the status quo with her. I suppressed my own feelings and desires as we continued to live our life.

I heard that she still hones her painting skill after she finishes her session with her uncle, which is quite fascinating in itself. I mean, how could she manage to cram her accounting lesson, practice painting, and call me at night? Talk about crazy time management right there.

As she works hard for her future, so do I. My practice is starting to bore fruit. On Thursday, November 16th, 2023. I managed to land around 80% of my mid-range shots and 70% of three-pointer shots when I was practicing in the club without a defender.

I know that it's pale in comparison to Tony, Carlos, and Brandon who nailed every open shot, but compared to my old self, that was a major improvement. Brandon told me that all I need now is a chance.

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023. Our team just had won the district preliminaries, earning us a spot along with the 61 other schools for the regional Division One championship bracket. Even with our position secured, we didn't slack off and kept practicing.

Time passed quickly, and now it’s the time for the winter season to come. Walking my way to my university, I was greeted by a sight of street’s festivities.

From the garlands that were stretched across buildings, candy canes that were plastered to the window, to the socks that were hung on the walls, everything was all about Christmas.

I know that I wasn’t a faithful Christian and didn’t attend churches that often, but with Christmas decorations all over the place, I couldn’t help but to celebrate the season altogether.

Arriving at my destination, I looked around to see that Christmas also made it to my university. There was a huge Christmas tree with a lot of baubles, and a decorating star on top.

A lot of garlands and ribbons were hung high in the corridors’ walls and the tall transparent glasses. And to top it off, the ambience was filled with faint yet audible Christmas songs.

I attended my classes, listening to my lecturers until midday. As the lunch break started, I went to the cafeteria once more, ordering my food before I sat beside her, talking about ourselves as we ate our lunch.

As we finished eating, she wiped her mouth with a tissue and pulled out a small canvas to the table.

“Keith, take a look at this.”

She showed me a piece of her work. It’s a painting that depicts a silhouette of Santa Claus, flying through the night sky, right with a reindeer pulled magical sleight.

“Wow, it’s pretty good. You are getting better at this, Jess.”

Hearing my flattery, she laughed loudly. Her face was brimming with joy as she responded back to me.

“Come on… I’m not that good yet.”

“Well, it’s the truth though.” I chuckled. “I look forward to the day you put me into your canvas.”

We went into a burst of laughter, disregarding our surroundings completely. Well, I didn’t think that our noises would even make a dent into the rowdy cafeteria atmosphere, so that’s that.

After we calmed ourselves, she started to steer the topic astray.

“So, Keith, how are you doing with your basketball? I’d believe you have made a bigger progress than I do.”

“Well…” I scratched my head. “I’m getting better at it, but I’m yet to get a spot on the team. But I'm just gonna do my best and I’ll get there eventually.”

We continued to talk, and we didn’t realize that our lunch break was over, not until I checked my phone. With our class coming up next, I started standing up to leave the scene, and decided to tell her to do the same.

“Jess, our break is over, and…”

Krk!

There was a huge sound coming from below. I looked down, only to find out that my right old basketball shoe I use finally crumbled down.

I guess that’s a given. It would be a miracle that my worn-down sport shoe that existed since my high school basketball career could hold up until now. After all, a shoe doesn’t have infinite durability, it is bound to break down one day.

Since I couldn’t practice basketball with this junk anymore, I suppose I should go back home and switch to the only remaining spare shoe I have. And while I’m at it, I should give this longtime partner of mine the eternal rest it needed.

Goodbye buddy, I’ll miss you.

However, the huge cracking sound attracted her attention. As she looked down to see how pathetic the shoe condition was, I got embarrassed to no end.

“Uhm…”

A sense of shame reigned over my body, rendering me speechless in front of her. In the middle of an awkward situation, she put her hands on her mouth and snorted out loud.

“Pfft! Keith, what kind of training regime you are practicing that your shoe had given up on you? What kind of hellish torture that poor thing went through to become such a sorry state?”

That joke of hers cooked my embarrassment to the boiling point. Just if it wasn’t a big deal, she went on.

“Keith, I have an idea. You know that malls would have huge clearance sales to celebrate Christmas and new year, right? Why don’t we shop there together at Christmas? Let’s get yourself a shoe with a discount.”

That makes sense… We could go together…

Suddenly, I realized something.

Hold on… Shopping… Together?!? Isn’t that a shopping date like the k-dramas my mother used to watch? What did she mean by this?

As I was surprised, she looked me in the eyes.

“Hmm, Keith, why do you look surprised? Don’t tell me you forget that we need to keep our couple act? Since I stopped coming to your club, the girls started to doubt me. I think this is a good time to make a good impression of them by showing them we are going together. Am I right?”

I see… It’s because we have… to pretend…

My heart ached. Somehow, I wonder if this is a real shopping date with her.

No, no, no. Get yourself a grip! This is not a real date! This is just a farce! A farce! Abandon all your thoughts of those romantic stories you watched with mom on the tv.

In the end, I accepted her suggestion. We decided to shop right in the heart of Christmas, 25th December 2023 at Serramonte Center, a nearby mall. She said that it’s the first day of the Christmas sale, and she wanted to get the first dibs on any deals.

Shortly, she talked about her wish list and how big the sale was. She told me the importance of getting in on the first day, something about stocks or whatnot. Her enthusiasm started to irritate me.

I get it, saving your money with this sale is a good thing, but she didn’t have to make it so overbearing to hear.

However, a sense of uneasiness filled my mind. I felt I had forgotten something important.

Slowly, I realized that we should have gotten going already. If we don’t make a move now, we would be late for class.

“Oh geez, look at the time! We need to get going now, or we would be late for our class.”

“Shit! I forgot! We need to get going now.”

“Jess, just confirming for the twenty fifth. What time are you comfortable with? I’ll pick you up with an online taxi.”

“Taxi? Keith, really? Ah, whatever. Just pick me at ten AM.”

“At ten, I got it.”

She stood up, turning herself around and waved her hands at me.

“See you later, Keith!”

“See you.”

With a smile, she slowly walks away, leaving me alone in the cafeteria. And now, it’s my turn to…

Krk!

I felt that my right shoe is tearing up. The shoe insoles flapped up and down as I took a step forward.

Deciding to hide the fact that the shoe is broken beyond repair, I dragged my right foot to hide the shoe condition. Except when I had to ascend the inevitable stairs, I didn’t lift my right leg at all. I held my embarrassment as I made my way into my class.

Dammit, this is so embarrassing! I hope no one else knows about this!

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