Home > The Freshman (Kingmakers # 1)

The Freshman (Kingmakers # 1)
Author: Sophie Lark

 

1

 

 

Leo

 

 

We’re twenty-three minutes into the State Championship game.

We’re playing Simeon, an athletic powerhouse stocked with muscle-bound behemoths who look like they started shaving in the second grade, and who might have been born with a basketball in their hands.

Every one of their players is better than every kid on my team.

Except for me.

And me is all I need.

I’m paired up against Johnson Bell, their power forward. He’s 6’7, a full two inches taller than me. He’s fast, and he’s strong, I’m not gonna lie. And most of all, he’s fucking cheap.

This motherfucker has been chippy with me all game. Chopping at my arms, charging me, slashing me with his uncut fingernails like he’s trying to embody the wolverine mascot plastered across his chest.

He knows as well as I do that the head coach for the Kentucky Wildcats is sitting right in the front row at center court, watching us both. Kentucky has added more players to the NBA roster than any other college. They call it “One and Done”—you play one year for their school, and you’ve got a better chance of going pro than any other D1 school.

Bell wants to be a star.

I already am a fucking star.

Bell takes the ball up the court, trying to drive past me. He does some fancy dancing with his giant feet in his vintage Jordans. It doesn’t faze me for a second—I keep my eye on his navel. Like my dad always says, you can’t go anywhere without your bellybutton.

Without even looking at the ball, I slap it away from him with my left hand, knocking it over to my right. I plow past him in the opposite direction, sprinting for the basket. Their guard tries to block me, and I pull up short, sending a gorgeous arcing shot over his grasping fingers. I’m seven feet behind the three-point line and it doesn’t matter a bit—the ball drops through the net without even grazing the rim.

The roar of the crowd hits me like a slap. My eardrums vibrate. My heart thrums in my chest.

There’s no feeling quite like being adored by a thousand people at once.

The buzzer sounds, signaling the end of the first half. I go jogging back across the court while my teammates slap me on the back. We’re up six points.

While my team hustles down the tunnel toward the locker room, the dance team is running in the opposite direction up to the court. Anna and I pass each other in the darkened hallway.

She’s all dolled up in her drill gear—blonde hair pulled up in a high pony, face painted and every inch of her sprayed with glitter. It always makes me laugh to see her in her dance clothes, since bright and tight is the opposite of what she wears normally.

She gives me a little fist bump as we pass, saying in her low voice, “You’re gonna win, Leo.”

“I know,” I say, grinning back at her.

Anna is my best friend. We grew up together, closer than siblings. Our fathers run this city together. Our mothers went through their pregnancies together, Anna and I were born only two months apart. She’s older than me, which she loves to rub in my face every chance she gets.

Anna is the only person I’ve ever met more intense than me. Sometimes she scares me a little. But mostly she’s my balance, my rock.

Here at Preston Heights, I’m the fucking man.

Everybody wants a piece of me. They all want to sit by me or talk to me. All the girls want to date me.

They think they know Leo Gallo.

Anna is the only person who actually does.

She knows exactly who I am, and she doesn’t try to change a damn thing about me. Unlike my parents.

I saw my mom and dad sitting two rows behind the Kentucky coach, just a little to his right. They never miss my games. They’re always there, cheering me on. Celebrating my wins even more than I do.

It’s my dad who taught me how to play. He was a college star himself, before Uncle Cal and him got in some kind of scrap, and his knee got all fucked up.

Doesn’t mean he can’t still work me on the court, though. My dad taught me everything I know. He practiced with me, drilled me, taught me how to read my opponent, how to watch the flow of players on the court, how to outwit and outplay every guy I came up against. How to destroy them mentally and physically. How to beat them before I even made my first move.

My father’s pretty fucking smart. You don’t become the Don of Chicago any other way. And you sure as hell don’t stay there being stupid.

He taught me how to play basketball. But what I really want him to teach me is how to run the world.

I’m not trying to be an athlete.

I’m trying to be a fucking king.

I’m still gonna win this game, though. Because I win everything, always.

We head back to the locker room so the coach can tell us how we fucked up, and how we’re supposed to fix it in the second half. I’m barely listening to him—I’ve watched more game tape from before I was born than this guy has ever seen. He’s just a teacher who happens to have the best damn player in the country on his team.

I gulp down a lukewarm cup of Gatorade, while listening to the pounding beat of “Billie Jean” emanating from the gym. I’ve seen Anna practice this number a dozen times, but I still wish I was out there to see her do it live, in costume, in front of all these people.

Her parents are sitting right next to mine—Mikolaj and Nessa Wilk, the boss of the Polish Braterstwo and the princess of the Irish Mafia. Anna’s parents started out as enemies, a lot like mine. And just like mine, they’re weirdly obsessed with each other. I guess Anna and I should be glad we both come from families with parents that love each other, but Jesus, you shouldn’t have to tell grown adults to get a room.

Anna is to dance what I am to basketball—the fucking best. She makes the rest of the girls on her team look like they’ve got clown shoes strapped to their feet. She’s always front and center, grabbing your eye from the second she starts dancing, and refusing to let go until long after the music fades away.

I’m pulled back toward her, even though I know Coach will be pissed if I don’t stay till the bitter end of his motivational speech. I wait until he’s at a particularly rousing point, then I pretend like I think that was the end of it, leaping to my feet and shouting, “That’s right, Coach, we got you! Let’s get out there and WIN THIS FUCKING THING!!!”

The locker room breaks out in whoops and howls, everybody stomping the floor and chanting like we’re Spartans going off to war.

We run back out to the court, me ahead of everybody else, wanting to catch the end of Anna’s dance.

Billie Jean — Michael Jackson

Spotify → geni.us/freshman-spotify

Apple Music → geni.us/freshman-apple

 

 

The dance team is dressed in some kind of bizarre Day of the Dead skeleton get-up. Their faces are painted like bejeweled skulls and they’ve got flowers in their hair.

Anna is Captain of the dance team and the head choreographer. Watching her numbers is like watching a fever dream. They’re wild, intense, and hard-hitting. The pounding bass of the song shakes the bleachers, and the girls look like they’re possessed—none more than Anna.

You would think she didn’t have a bone in her body. She flings herself around, strong and precise and tight as a whip.

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