Edward had played baseball for almost as long as the game had existed. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but still, he’d played a lot of baseball. Unfortunately, the baseball tryouts weren’t until spring, and Edward couldn’t imagine playing the game with anyone other than his family.
He didn’t quite know why he tried out for basketball. If pressed, he would have said that he was in the standing in the front of McCarthey Athletic Center, checking out posters put up by the various intramurals groups and sports teams and…before he knew it he was in line to sign up for the tryouts.
The coaches were more than a little dubious, and he guessed he didn’t blame them. The problem with being superhumanly strong is that the physical world leaves very little for your body to work hard against. I mean, unless you were Emmett and you threw trees and rocks around for fun. Compared to the other players, he was on the shortish side, on the scrawnyish side, and—due to being a sophomore and admitting that he had never played basketball before—was more than a bit on the inexperienced side.
His vampiric powers, even consciously dialed back to almost nothing, gave him at least the appearance of natural skill, however. He was fast, agile, and never seemed to get tired. The coaches also seemed to appreciate that he did all the drills, came to all of the practices, didn’t give anyone any lip, and was pretty good about working with his teammates.
He knew that he could be even better than this. His telepathy would always put him one step ahead of his opponents. His was literally so fast that he could do easy layups while the other players on the court seemed to literally be standing still. But that was no fun. Like baseball with the family, playing basketball was more about doing things with people. Of sharing a common interest. Of working to a common goal. You didn’t just do that by being an unstoppable, godlike, ballhog.
Edward wasn’t sure that his teammates liked him either, and it took all of his willpower for him not to use his mental abilities to check. But soon, he started receiving friendly slaps after a good play (although he was always worried that someone was going to break their hand on his flawless chest), and good-natured ribbing in the locker room. This latter was a new sensation, and it was difficult for him to adjust to it. Edward knew they weren’t actually making fun of him, but the old, protective rage proved to be a beast that was hard to kill. He tried to smile, to laugh it off, hoping that his return barbs weren’t too envenomed and that they didn’t drive too deep.
The season started and Edward, despite being a seemingly respectable member of the team, sat on the bench. He seethed inside, but less so than he would have back in Forks. He wanted to play, but he was competent enough at math to know that the team had a lot of players, and they could only play five of them at a time.
The coaches finally started putting him in at the end of games, when Gonzaga’s victory was almost assured. He showboated a bit more than he promised himself he would, but there was something about the energy on the court, the surging scream of the crowd, that got his venom pumping much more than mere bloodlust ever could. In his first two outings he left the other teams flatfooted and sank a half-dozen seemingly impossible shots.
Gonzaga decided to have him start shortly thereafter.
Edward had dialed it back as much as he could when he started playing regularly. He had come to respect and really enjoy the camaraderie of his teammates, and he wants to make sure they had a chance to shine as well. So he passed the ball, set up shots so his teammates could score, screened the other team, and even fouled and got fouled a time or two, crashing theatrically to the boards, acting, what he hoped, was the part of a fragile, moderately injured human.
Back in Forks, his family had started watching the game, sending IMs and emails from their Apple products whenever Gonzaga won. They were all convinced that he was the lynchpin of the team, and Edward could not convince them otherwise, no matter how strongly he argued the point. He guessed that they were just proud of him that he was doing so well—and Jasper was impressed he hadn’t eaten that Israeli player from UCONN yet.
All of that led them up to this night—the big game in the Final Four against the Tar Heels. Only one of them would advance. Edward, of course, hoped that it would be the Bulldogs. There was no way of knowing, though, especially considering that the Huskies’ women’s team (lady Huskies? Edward wasn’t sure) just had their more than 100 game winning streak broken. Freakish, but anything could happen.
He did not, however, realize that anything included a slender, dark-haired girl wearing street clothes walking out with four of the Tar Heels. About the only thing that looked even remotely athletic on her were the broken-in Converse on her feet. She played idly with a necklace that was obviously homemade and strung with junk—something that would no doubt cause someone an eye injury over the course of the game.
The girl squared off with Edward as the first half began. He looked around frantically—at the refs, at the coaches, at the other players—but no one else seemed to notice or care how out of place she was.
“Hey,” she said, speaking in the low, honeyed drawl of the Deep South. “Get your head in the game, Cullen.”
“But…you…” he said. “How?”
“I’m a Caster, you filthy blood incubus,” said the girl, breaking into a radiant smile. “And all these guys think I’m Isaiah Hicks. You don’t, though, because you’ve got powers and you’re cheating.”
The whistle blew. Edward moved to cover the girl, listening to the omnipresent roar of the crowd, the high-pitched squealing of sneakers on wax. All of a sudden, the ball was in the girl’s hands.
“Well, I’m Lena Duchannes, bitchbag, and if you can cheat, so can I.”