"Wait, we're not facing St. Dymphna?"
"The team won't be suspended for the year the first game of the season."
"One game that counts instead of the usual brawl between us and the Dymphnoids."
"Me, I'm not even betting on the game."
Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 2 - A Nice, Friendly Game
The stands at Simcoe Secondary School were half filled when Caitlin led Autumn and Laura in. Both teams, the Gephardt Phoenix and the home team Simcoe Loyalists, were on the basketball court, warming up in their respective half of the floor. Caitlin glanced down, easily finding Skye in her orange t-shirt and grey shorts, the number seven on her back. She waved to her roommate, then found a spot in the stands to sit. Laura and Autumn sat down on either side of the redhead. The buzzer blared, ending the warmup on the floor. Both teams returned to their benches.
"This is what I was expecting from high school," Laura remarked. She looked around.
Autumn adjusted her skirt, increasing the gap between the top of her stocking and the hem a bit more. "Not as many boys as I thought there'd be."
"Girls basketball." Caitlin brushed her red hair back. "Boys aren't as interested."
"There are girls in shorts and t-shirts." Autumn tossed back her hair. "And, today, me."
"I feel out of place here." Laura fiddled with the hem of her grey skirt. "Anyone else feeling like that?"
"No." Caitlin put her hand on Laura's shoulder. "Be proud of the uniform, Laura. It's a symbol."
"Yeah, a symbol for future criminals." A pair of girls laughed behind the Academy students.
Caitlin turned around to face the girls. "Excuse me?"
One of the girls looked down, her dark hair cascading over her shoulder. "You heard me. Your entire school is just a step before you go to prison."
Autumn began to stand up, only to be pulled back down by Caitlin. "I see," the redhead said, her tone even. "We're just here to watch the game."
"And while you're here, your gang is off stealing the school blind. I know your type."
"Heidi, are you sure this is a good idea?" The girl's companion put a hand on her friend to restrain her.
"Listen to your friend, Heidi," Caitlin said. "You don't want to get into a fight with us. Just ask the girls at St. Dymphna."
Heidi scowled. "Those pansies?"
"Autumn, do you have your tablet?" Caitlin never broke eye contact with Heidi.
"In my bag. Why?"
"Do you have the photos from last year's game?"
Autumn reached for her bag. "I should."
Caitlin smiled at Heidi. "Show our host what the teams looked like at the end."
Autumn flipped through the pictures on the tablet. "Got it." She held up the tablet, letting Heidi see a photo of Skye, eye blackened, blood coming her from nose and mouth. "That's at half-time." The Asian girl flipped past a few more photos. "Oh, this one is good. I don't recognize who this is, but I'm sure her face is back to normal now." The picture showed a girl lying on the floor, blood pooling around her head.
Heidi paled, turning green. She pushed away her friend, then ran out the gym. Her friend just stared. "I trust we won't be bothered again this evening," Caitlin said. Heidi's friend stammerered a no, then moved away from the Academy students.
Autumn put her tablet away. "Thanks. I really didn't want to get into a brawl in the stands."
"Criminals? Really?" Laura stared at Caitlin.
"We have a small public relations problem," the redhead answered. "We are not common criminals."
"We're budding supervillains," Autumn added. "There's no laws against what we do."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Says the girl wanted in North Korea."
The buzzer broke up the impending bickering. On the court, the teams met at centre court. The referee tossed the basketball up for the tip-off. Skye reached the ball first, batting the ball back at her teammates. Felicia caught the ball and dribbled it, walking it slowly towards the centre line to give her team time to get into position. Skye worked her way downcourt, getting around one defender. A second came up behind her, crowding her. The tall Unruly girl kept a handspan between her and the defender. Felicia passed the ball to Sasha, who drove down the court. Skye took a step back, ready to get to her spot near the basket.
The referee blew his whistled. "Offensive foul, number seven. Two free throws."
Skye looked down behind her. Her defender rolled on the ground, clutching her shin. The tall girl rolled her eyes. "Save it for soccer season."
Up in the stands, Laura leaned in closer to Caitlin. "What happened?"
"Bad acting." Caitlin waited for the defender to take her first shot. The ball bounced off the rim. "Bad shooting, too."
"The good news," Autumn said, "is that Skye never touched her."
"How is that good if she took a dive?" Laura asked. She watched the second shot hit the backboard before falling through the basket.
Caitlin turned to Autumn. "How long did it take for last year's game to fall apart?"
Autumn shrugged. "About this long. Except last year, Skye bounced a basketball off Sarah's face."
Laura turned her attention back to the action on the court. "Just seems like the referee missed the call."
On the floor, Sasha passed the ball out to Skye. Skye dribbled the ball towards centre court, the Loyalists using a half-court press. Loyalist players remained close to Phoenix girls, preventing Skye from passing the ball cleanly. The Loyalist in front of her maintained a screen, adding another level of difficulty. Skye deked left, spun around, took several steps right. The Loyalist on her tried to keep up. Skye feinted going forward, then darted left. Her shadow fell for the fake out and couldn't recover in time to stop Skye from taking a jump shot. The ball fell through the basket, never touching the rim.
The game proceeded, back and forth. The Phoenix kept taking the lead, but then got called on personal fouls. No one Phoenix fouled out, but most of the girls on the team had two by the end of the first quarter. In the stands, Caitlin frowned. She picked her way down from the stands to the gym floor, Laura and Autumn following. The redhead flashed a smile at Coach Cherry, then knelt down to talk to Skye. "What do you think?" Caitlin asked.
Skye looked over at Coach Cherry before answering. "We're winning. We're just getting some tough calls."
"Tough? Skye, I've seen better dives at a kid's wading pool."
"The coach wants us to focus on our game, Cait. Not the ref."
Felicia sat down on the other side of Caitlin. "If Coach Cherry even hears us thinking something bad about the ref, she'll bench us."
Caitlin looked over at the coach. "Have you ever seen this referee before? Either of you?"
Skye shrugged. "Cait, no other team has played us. If you're asking if he's a regular ref, I don't know."
"You better go, Caitlin," Felicia said. "The game's going to start up again soon." She looked up at the scoreboard's clock.
"Who would know the ref's name?"
"The official scorer." Skye nodded at a table at the centre line. "All the details are there."
Caitlin patted her roommate's shoulder. "Thanks."
"Cait, you promised not to interfere."
"I promised not to interfere with the outcome of the game. That's on you. Finding out who is behind the bad calls is on me." Caitlin got to her feet. "Go get 'em, Skye!"
The redhead returned to Autumn and Laura. Both had questioning looks on their faces. "Laura, go down to the scorer's bench and get the name of the ref. Don't ask for it, though. Just check the papers and the computer." Caitlin turned to Autumn. "You're with me. We're going to find some new friends here." The red-haired girl strode to the exit as the buzzer sounded.
The heels of Caitlin's boots echoed in the halls of Simcoe Secondary. Cheers filtered through the gym doors, growing louder as Autumn ran through. Caitlin stopped in front of a locker room. She checked the door; boy's change room. As Autumn caught up, the red-haired girl resumed her journey.
"You could let us in on your plans once in a while, Caitlin." Autumn hurried to keep up.
"I'm looking for the girls' washroom."
Caitlin turned the corner. She maintained her pace. "Yes, now." Two voices, belonging to girls trying to keep their conversation from carrying, caught the red-haired girl's attention. "This way, Autumn." Caitlin followed the voices to the girls' locker room. She walked in. "Ah, Heidi, Heidi's friend, still here?"
Heidi, still pale, glared at the invasion. "Oh, what now, bitch?"
"Heidi, don't." Her friend pulled on her shoulder.
"You should listen to her, Heidi." Caitlin took a few more steps towards the two girls. "I'm not here to start anything."
Caitlin smiled. "You haven't been watching the game."
Heidi glowered. "No thanks to you."
"It's close. Very close. Except that the flow of the game keeps getting interrupted by fouls."
Heidi's friend put herself between Heidi and Caitlin. "Yeah, all caused by your team. We know your rep. We've seen the photos." She shot a dirty look at Autumn.
Autumn held up her hands. "It's not my fault she has a weak stomach. Shouldn't go around calling other people names if you can't handle the payback."
"You can go out and ask any of your fellow students about the fouls," Caitlin said. She stepped aside to give Heidi and her friend room to get around her. "The dives are horrible and obvious."
Heidi and her friend skirted around the Academy girls to return to the gym. Caitlin followed, stopping at the gym doors. On the court, Sasha intercepted a pass. She threw the ball to Skye. Skye broke for the Loyalists' end, going for the lay up. A Simcoe defender followed on her heels. Skye leapt, keeping the ball out of her opponent's reach long enough to put it in the basket. As they came down, the defender slammed her elbow into Skye's face. The Loyalist grabbed the ball and took it behind the line to throw. Skye saw red for a moment, but shook it off. She ran back to the Phoenix side of the court.
"Time!" Coach Cherry ran out on the floor with a towel. "Skye, your nose."
Skye ran a finger under her nose, feeling something sticky. She held up her hand; blood covered her finger. "You!" Skye pointed at the defender. Felicia ran over to grab one of Skye's arms.
Coach Cherry handed the towel to Skye. "The bench, Martin. Get cleaned up." The coach glanced at the referee. "Nice call on the foul, there."
"I didn't see it."
The Academy's coach marched to the scorer's bench. "I'm putting in an official protest of this game. If another of my girls gets hurt, we're leaving." The scorer shrunk beneath the coach's anger. Coach Cherry returned to the Phoenix bench. "And someone mop up the blood on the floor!"
Caitlin heard footsteps running towards her. She turned to see Laura coming to a stop. "There you are. What did you find out?"
"It's getting worse out there." Laura smoothed out her grey skirt. "Rachel's fouled out. The ref's not even seeing the blatant ones done to us."
"They're pushing," Autumn said. "One just bloodied Skye's nose."
Heidi and her friend returned. "Okay, something's wrong, yes," Heidi said. "What's your point?"
"I promised my friend, the girl who just got her nose bloodied, that I wouldn't interfere with the game's outcome. She wanted a chance to play a game that would count in the standings, win or lose. At this rate, either we'll have to forfeit or the game will degenerate into a brawl." Caitlin smiled without warmth. "You've seen the photos. Will you help?"
"You're going to get me in trouble!"
"You are scary."
"The obvious target is the Academy, but that's years of fending off St. Dymphna speaking."
"Just what do they teach you at your school?"