Story:Something to Prove

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Something to Prove
Written by Herr Wozzeck

Hank took his place on the starting line-up. The referee stood in the center of the arena, holding the basketball up. The Lone Stars and the Moonshiners both stood up, Hank turning to look at Roni. The raccoon gave Hank a somewhat nervous look, but Hank only needed to nod and the fellow rookie was reassured. Hank then chanced a look at Dewitt: determination was always on Dewitt’s expression first and foremost, but it was more apparent that night.

Hank then turned his gaze to the opposition. His eyes were narrowed, and he watched Buck Hopper as the rabbit stood opposite from him. The two of them exchanged a few glances, though instead of feeling afraid Hank met Buck’s gaze head-on. Hank was of course familiar with the legendary Buck Hopper: who in the FBA was not? However, this small fact only galvanized Hank. He steeled himself for the game, an oddly calm feeling coming over him.

He chanced a look at the stands again. There was Jenna, standing by with all of his bluegrass friends as they looked down from where they sat a little closer to the arena than normal. Jenna looked frightfully worried, and even from that distance Hank could see she was worried. Nevertheless, he nodded to her, turning his attention back to everyone immediately around him.

He then turned to the referee, who blew the whistle.

The ball sailed upward, both teams reaching for the ball.

But in the end, it was Ahti Nereus who picked up the ball first. Keeping one eye on Buck Hopper, Hank rushed after the large sturgeon, Dewitt thundering up past him.

And as Hank moved to get in front of Buck around the three-point line, Hank knew that it had begun.

Hank closed his locker, his eyes closed and his shoulders hunched. He did not maintain any eye contact with any of his teammates, as neither did anyone else.

He could not believe what had happened in his first professional game in the FBA season played on. He of course had all the dreams that everyone would have of their first professional game: good times, perhaps something on the highlight reel, a victory, and drinks with friends afterwards and hopes that the season would continue on the ball. Hank of course was not expecting to be crowned with a Player of the Game honor, but that would have been a cherry on top. And of course, with Tanya on the other side of the court, Hank was expecting to have a grand old time, both playing against a former teammate (and someone he considered one of his two best friends from Pensacola Pred) and going out for drinks after the game.

He sighed, gently closing his locker and sitting in front of it in silence.

Hank could only clench his fist in anger as he thought about the first thing where everything went wrong: one Atticus Polyphemus. Atticus talked a very big game at practices whenever Hank was there, and he was always the first one to talk about how great he was as a player. And yet, as Hank watched Atticus play, he found himself correcting all sorts of mistakes that the coach at Pensacola Pred would have made Hank spend an extra hour on drills. Atticus turned out to be an absolutely abysmal player, and Hank could sense that the rest of the Moonshiners saw it too. Hank saw it as a miracle that Coach Belvedere continued to let Atticus play after a streak of six consecutive missed baskets; this only demoralized the Moonshiners further as the game wore on.

Not that Atticus was the only problem in the game. Hank could still remember the injury Huckens Storrs achieved when Huckens had taken a tumble after one of his attempts to get a dunk. This, of course, had been blocked, so it made the already bad-looking injury even worse.That came as a blow to Tennessee’s starting line, and it forced Dewitt Azad Ghakhar to the starting line. But Hank figured they could recover from that; as soon as Dewitt scored a dunk worthy of the highlight reel, Hank felt confident they could pull it back together.

The reprieve did not last terribly long: Hank cringed when he saw Dewitt crack his horn on the rim right near the end of the third quarter. He had watched Dewitt’s pained expression, the way he clenched his fist even as he told the trainers that he would be fine. But even as Dewitt protested, Hank had a feeling that Tennessee was out of luck that night.

It was not as if Hawaii had gone away unscathed. Charles Burgh had suffered some kind of injury when Hank was on the court; but in comparison it did not slow down the Kahunas in any meaningful fashion. The Kahunas kept scoring points, which came as a complete shock to those who had known the Kahunas for floundering at the bottom of the FBA for pretty much all of the 2013 Season.

In the end, it was a total wash-out. Tennessee had managed to catch up to Hawaii in the third quarter, but almost immediately the Kahunas left the Moonshiners in the dust with a twenty-five point lead. The first game in the season, a home game, and Hank’s first professional game in the league, and not only did it turn out nothing like he expected, but it was such a harrowing experience as well.

Of course, Hank’s own numbers did nothing to help his disappointment: if anything, he felt even more disappointed by how poor his performance had been. He was proud of the fact that he averaged ten to twelve points a game at Pensacola Pred, and he could live with that. On the court at his first professional game? Four points. Well, technically, he had scored seven points, but the remaining three points were from free throws. He had sixteen minutes to show what he could do to the whole FBA, and he felt he had botched his first game rather spectacularly in that regard.

Hank stood up, sighing as he checked his phone indications. He imagined his father’s disappointed face in what faint reflection he could make out when he finished looking at his indications and powered down his phone. But most of all, Hank could only see his own face staring back at him.

The marsupial put his phone back in his pocket, walking past the entire rest of the team and making his way out to his truck. He only hoped he would not break some of Bethilda’s strings that night.

Hank looked up at the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter. Despite everything the Moonshiners were putting into the game, the Lone Stars were still ahead by six points. He sighed, walking over to the cooler and getting a swig of water.

As he splashed some water on his face, Hank looked back to the bench. There were the usual faces out there, with Atticus leering out at the arena in front of him. Hank regarded the faces of his teammates, a frown coming to his own face as he watched their disappointment.

In particular, Hank chanced a glance over at Lucas Dupre. He felt a wave of guilt crash over him about the fact that the old veteran was not on the starting line. Even if he had been unable to help Tennessee get back in the spotlight, he felt that Barton was still one of the better players on the team. In some ways, Hank felt he was cheating Barton with a position on the starting line.

He shook his head, looking at the bench to where his phone rested. He then blinked, picking up the phone as he saw a text message indication on the screen. Hank swiped the phone on and looked at the text.

“Ur doing good. Still got three more quarters!”

Hank smiled, looking up at the stands to see Jenna chatting animatedly with Blake. He then nodded, putting the phone down.

With this, he gave his legs a stretch, before the team was called out to begin the second quarter.

“Dang… and there’s another loss right there.”

Hank sat at his locker, tossing his jersey in. He pulled at his slightly damp flannel shirt, Hank realizing he probably should have dried his fur a little more thoroughly. He sighed, disappointment setting on his features.

"I don't even want to count how many that is in a row now. This is getting embarrassing."

Hank turned, looking over at fellow rookie Roni Fulton. Roni looked somewhat disappointed as well, though Hank could tell he was at least taking it better than he was. The raccoon threw his own towel in, pulling on a cotton shirt with a collar. He then closed his locker.

“I know, right?” Hank asked. He sighed, his shoulders dropping. “And I’m just sittin’ here, wonderin’ when we’ll break it. We gotta break it at some point, right?”

Roni shrugged, turning to face Hank. “We have to, but luck hasn't been in our favor these past few weeks,” he replied. “It'll happen, hopefully soon.”

Hank could only sigh again. “I hope so, Roni. This is gettin’...” He then turned around, leaning his back against the locker. “This is gettin’ mighty bad…”

Roni looked at Hank, before regarding him with a smile. Hank had seen Roni smile enough times to know when he was being genuine, but Hank saw that Roni’s muzzle was curled in not quite the right way. Still, Roni’s eyes shone with some kind of sincerity.

"Don't worry man,” Roni replied. “We'll turn it around sooner or later."

“I hope so…” Hank replied. “I hope so.” He paused, looking away from the raccoon. He brought one leg up to the bench, resting an arm on it. His mind wandered over to the game earlier that evening, at how little he had played… at how little he had contributed.

“Say, Roni?” Hank asked.

"Yeah?" Roni said.

Hank closed his eyes, thinking to the fact that most of his games had seen him score only four points per game. “Do ya think… do ya think I’m contributin’ nothin’ at all ‘round here?” he asked.

Roni shook his head. "No, not at all,” he replied. “You're contributing. The limited minutes are just holding you back.” He then leaned forward, patting Hank on the shoulder. “Keep working, your opportunity's gonna come."

Hank could only sigh. “I don’t feel like it is, ya know,” he replied. “I ain’t contributin’ much ta anythin’, and that… Even with all those small minutes, I feel I could be doin’ much better. Four points a game ain’t good, and I reckon I could do better!”

"We all could,” Roni replied. “If everybody was playing their best we wouldn't be losing so much..."

“‘Specially me…” Hank turned away, tapping his other foot against the floor. “Ah, well.” He then pushed himself to standing, closing the locker door behind him. “I’m gonna head out. Ya got anythin’ ta do, or…?”

"Nah, I got nothing to do today,” Roni replied. “I can join you if you want."

“Mm…” Hank shrugged. “Well, I ain’t gotta head out an’ do much, so… Wanna grab some wings or somethin’?”

And right then, Roni gave Hank a genuine smile. "Yeah!” he said. “Wings sound good right about now." He rubbed his belly for effect.

Despite himself, Hank cracked a smile. “Sure thing, Roni,” he said. “C’mon.”

And so, the two of them headed out. Hank sighed, his smile fading a little bit. He thought back to his game earlier, how disappointed he felt at his infinitesimally small contribution to everything. And with this in mind, Hank’s heart sank a little bit.

He then sighed as he stepped out into the cool Nashville night, finding it in himself to smile again as he and Roni approached Hank’s truck.

Hank grit his teeth, dribbling the ball in his paws as he faced down Buck Hopper. Hank knew from previous experience that Buck was no pushover, but he was only discovering for the first time just how difficult it was to keep the rabbit pinned down.

Hank feinted off to his right, hoping to catch Buck off guard; but as Hank darted left, Buck was right with him, blocking the possum’s way forward. Hank narrowed his eyes, quickly attempting to run in the opposite direction. The rabbit was not to be denied, though.

Hank then chanced a look past Buck Hopper, seeing center Eve Pasillas rush over to the net. Hank quickly shot past the rabbit, not enough to overtake him but just enough to get leeway to pass the ball. And this was what Hank did, the ball bouncing once on the hardwood before Eve caught it quickly. Eve then moved quickly, trying to move in to get a good shot…

…but in good form, the ball was plucked from the air by Ahti Nereus, just as it neared the net.

Without wasting a second, Ahti tossed the ball over to Wesley Lachs, who ran down to the other end of the court. Hank saw this, following Wesley as fast as his feet could carryhim. Hank noticed Huckens Storrs having a somewhat difficult time keeping up with Wesley, and Hank could only wonder who else would be left to guard the imposing salmon.

And then, Wesley tossed the ball to Travis Buckner. The koala caught it long before Wallace Butler could get over there, and with a quick jump Travis had dunked the ball, widening Texas’ lead by another two points.

Hank grunted as he shook his head. Before he could say much else, the buzzer sounded, announcing the end of the second quarter.

As the Lone Stars congregated closer to the bench to high five each other, Hank sighed in frustration. He looked up at the scoreboard, seeing fifty-five points to forty-six with Texas still holding the lead.

He sighed, returning to the bench. His look settled on a determined frown, and he clenched his fist in preparation for the coming quarters.

Hank slammed the door closed on his locker door. Everyone else had filed out well before then, but Hank had stayed behind to stew.

“Yet another dang twenty-point loss,” he whispered to himself.

Things were supposed to look up after the Moonshiners had acquired Lucas Dupre. Things were supposed to be different after the roster change. Hank had been looking forward to seeing what would change with the acquisition of Lucas Dupre, and what would happen with the team after Spencer and Rollo’s contracts were bought out. The team was supposed to get better.

But Hank saw that nothing changed. They still lost games, they still hovered right at the bottom of the league… Of course, the Firestorm had fallen to the bottom of the League, and for a long while Newark was down there too. It was comforting to see that someone else was taking the fall for the FBA for once. Tennessee was still at the bottom, sure, but Hank felt there was hope, even going into All-Star Week.

And then, ASW came and went, the glitz and glamour fading away just as quickly as it had come. With the fading of the glamour, the reality of the Moonshiners’ situation, and Hank’s, came rushing back.

It was eight games into a losing streak at that point. It would not have been so bad, except that Newark had risen straight out from the back of the pack in an intense winning streak that put the Pride in playoff contention. And even then, Tennessee still hovered right at the bottom, with a similar losing streak going on. It had not let up since the conclusion of ASW, and any hope that they had of being a good team again when Lucas Dupre first entered the picture had long since evaporated.

It would not have been so bad if not for the fact that Hank had finally started to put in somewhat good numbers again. He was shooting baskets just fine, and generally doing everything pretty decently, but decent was simply not cutting it. Hank was always striving to do better, but this did not always translate into a good game. If anything, it only made the losses hurt more. He was finally contributing something of meaning to the team, and they were still losing.

Hank growled in distaste. He shook his head, his eyes narrowed as he began to walk away from his locker.

He then picked up his phone, looking through his various pictures that Hal and Tanya had taken over ASW, before settling his thumb on an image of Hank and his father that Theo Rockwell had taken on Christmas Day. Both possums were smiling, both of them standing next to each other at a particular fountain somewhere in downtown Baltimore. Of course Tennessee had lost that match-up, but getting to see his father again was a real treat. That had overshadowed everything else about that day, and Hank was eternally grateful that his father could be there with him.

But without his father there at that moment, Hank felt a strong sense of disappointment. There he was, trying his hardest to succeed in this sport, and he had nothing to show for it. He kept throwing himself into each game, giving it all he had, and Tennessee did not benefit from any of his efforts.

Hank’s eyes watered. His father had placed so much faith in Hank, told him never to give up at any point. Hank had always held that advice close to his heart throughout his life. He carried that into his play-style in the FBA.

And for the first time in his life, Hank had absolutely nothing to show for it.

The possum sighed, powering down his phone and stepping out into the cold Alaskan air. He had to go back to the hotel, and quickly.

As soon as the third quarter started, Hank kept his eye on the ball.

Buck Hopper was the first to grab the ball this time, Hank keeping his eye squarely on the rabbit. The whole assortment of people from both teams rushed over to Tennessee’s basket, Hank getting into position to do what he could around Buck. The rabbit gave one of his signature cocky looks to Hank, but the possum remained unfazed by this as they straddled the three point line.

Hank simply concentrated as Buck’s cocky look morphed into a more serious expression as he moved the ball in the air. Hank simply kept his eye on it, watching the way Buck’s eyes scanned the court.

And then, Hank saw Buck move his hand in a way that the ball was to be passed to the rabbit’s right. However, instinct told Hank to stop. And as he did, Hank noticed in a millisecond that Buck Hopper’s hand was entirely too far forward on the top of the ball, his fingers perhaps too close to the other side of the ball relative to where Buck’s palm was.

It was a feint. And Hank guessed where Buck would really pass the ball to almost as soon as the ball’s momentum stopped.

Hank remained rooted in place as Buck Hopper immediately turned, rushing out past Hank and running for the net. However, Hank was ready, and followed Buck all the way to the net. As Buck leapt up to score a two-pointer, Hank’s hand reached out, and he managed to swat the ball away.

Hank stumbled a little bit, but he quickly regained his footing, lunging for the ball and running for the other end of the court as soon as he had a steady dribble going. By the time the crowd’s roar had been noticed by him, Hank had already run halfway across the court, noticing that everyone else was following him.

Hank chanced a look behind him, seeing Buck Hopper gain on him with the speed characteristic of most rabbits. Hank turned ahead, knowing that it was only a matter of time before Buck could overtake him. Thus, his eyes scanned the court, looking for whoever was closest to the net.

And sure enough, there was Doug Day, rushing forward as fast as he could. Hank noticed that Caspian Rhos trailed just behind Doug, Caspian not quite able to catch up to Doug. Doug was keeping his eye on Hank, and for a split second Hank established eye contact with the retriever.

Hank took the chance, throwing the ball so it bounced once, before landing in Doug’s paws.

Doug Day wasted no time at all: he immediately rushed up to the basket, leaping up as he brought the ball behind him with one arm. This arm then brought the ball to the net in an arc, slamming the ball home.

The crowd went wild over such a display. However, Hank remained focused, as Caspian Rhos stepped up and retrieved the ball. Hank was already walking over to the other end of the court, keeping an eye on Buck Hopper as he walked.

And as was apparent through the rest of the third quarter, Hank became hyper-aware of everything. Somehow, he was more in tune to what was happening. It was a strange feeling, the quarter going by in a blur of feeling the game more than he ever had in the past. It was a strange feeling, but Hank got used to it very quickly.

It was only when the buzzer signaled the end of the third quarter that he chanced a look up at the scoreboard. And what he saw filled him with hope.

Texas was still in the lead, of course, with seventy-five points. That had not changed. However, the Moonshiners had miraculously shaved the Lone Stars’ lead to a single point.

Hank smiled. It was down to the wire, but they were close. For the first time that night, Hank felt they could do it.

He looked back at Jenna, who held her hands together nervously. He only regarded her with a nod, before he walked straight for the cooler.

Hank sat on his bed, holding his head in his hands. His fingers gripped his hair rather hard, and his teeth were bared in a mix of fear and disappointment. He shuddered where he sat, and even though the heater had been turned on in that abnormally cold night Hank felt himself shiver. He squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the various notifications he was getting on his phone.

He heard a rapping on the window right behind the bed, the sound startling him. He jumped, his gaze turning to the window to see that Jenna was right outside. His eyes bulged out, though they did not widen considering that his eyes were already wide to begin with. He sat there in shock, Jenna’s expression regarding him warmly.

He then rushed over to the window, quickly opening it to her. “Jenna, what in the heck are ya doin’ out there!?” he asked.

“We missed ya, Hank!” said Jenna. “Don’t ya know it was Saturday today? Ya missed Dale!”

Hank paused, exhaling at length as he looked away. “Oh…” He paused. “Dang… I forgot about that…”

“It ain’t like ya to forget things,” Jenna replied. She then frowned, leaning closer to the window. “Hank, is something bothering ya?”

Hank sighed. “I’m… I’m fine,” he said, his voice wavering slightly.

Jenna’s frown deepened. “Hank, ya know me better than that,” she replied. “I know ya can’t possibly believe I can’t smell the bullshit coming off o’ ya from a mile away!” She then crossed her arms. “Something’s bothering ya. What is it?”

Hank sighed rubbing the back of his head. “It’s a mighty long story,” he replied.

Jenna nodded. “I can come in,” she said.

Hank nodded slowly. He then stood up, walking over. “I’ll be at the door in a bit…”

He then walked out the bedroom, walking into the living room. He then opened the front door, the cold chilling his arm a little bit as Jenna immediately came rushing in. She shivered as Hank closed the door behind her, Jenna rubbing her arms.

“Dang, ya wouldn’t believe how cold it is out there,” said Jenna as she slowly worked her jacket off. “Haven’t worn this since I drove up to New York that one time!”

Hank sighed. “Ya went all the way there?”

“Why not?” Jenna asked. “My high school had lots o’ money to spare for a theater trip.” She shook her head, pulling the jacket off and quickly tossing it onto the couch before turning to Hank. “Anyway, that ain’t important. What’s wrong?”

“I…” Hank turned away, walking past Jenna to sit on the couch. “I’m bein’ put on the startin’ line for tomorrow’s game ‘gainst the Lone Stars.”

Jenna gasped. “Wait, what!?” she asked.

Hank nodded. “Coach Belvedere told me about it when we got outa Winnipeg,” he replied. “I’m startin’ tomorrow. Me ‘n’ Roni, we’re both startin’ tomorrow.”

Jenna smiled. “That’s… that’s amazing, Hank!” said Jenna. “Your first time on the starting line! I mean…” She stepped forward, her eyes bright as she gestured out widely. “Can ya imagine it? There ”

“Yeah,” Hank replied, his sullen expression highlighting his monotone. “I can imagine it. It’s just gonna end in a dang disaster.”

Jenna’s smile fell, and then she walked closer to Hank. “Hank?” she asked.

“It’s all gonna end in disaster,” Hank replied. “Just like the first game o’ the season. Just like it keeps doin’ even with Lucas Dupre here. It’s all just gonna go wrong, I know it, and even when I try my hardest it won’t do a dang thing.”

“Ya don’t mean that,” Jenna replied.

Hank sighed. “Ya see my numbers there, Jenna,” he replied. He hunched over his knees. “I ain’t ever been useful ta my team. I wasn’t puttin’ in good numbers back when I started, I wasn’t puttin’ in good numbers most o’ the time I was in reserves, I ain’t puttin’ in good numbers now…” He then shook his head. “‘Sides, it ain’t actually my first time on the startin’ line. I started least twice early in the season. Both times, I was real bad. The second time, I only scored five dang points.”

“Oh…” Jenna shook her head. “But you’ve improved since then, ya know?” she asked. “Far as I’m concerned, ya do just fine out on the court now, and you’re always improving!”

“Yeah, ya think I do,” Hank replied. He sighed, rubbing his temples. “But that don’t change the fact that I ain’t contributed anythin’ of note ta this team.” He sighed. “We’re in the middle of a losin’ streak now, an’ his solution is ta throw most o’ the bench at the Lone Stars? ‘Specially when he knows I ain’t had a good record when on the startin’ line?” Hank looked down at the floor.

“I’m gonna fail ‘em, Jenna,” he finished softly, his voice hollow. “I’m gonna do my best, and it ain’t gonna be enough.”

Jenna paused, looking at Hank carefully. Her earlier smile had completely evaporated, instead replaced by one sad look. She watched the way Hank was hunched over in his couch, heard the way his tone seemed to hold more gravity than normal…

She let out a soft exhale. She shook her head, before walking to the back of the couch.

“Look, Hank…” Jenna then leaned over the back of the couch, looking over at Hank. “I know how you do on the court. My folks know quite a bit more ‘bout basketball than I do, and even they tell me you’re doin’ your best.”

“But my best can’t help my team any,” said Hank. He shook his head, looking down. “An’ with how much we lose…” Hank closed his eyes. “And with how my numbers’ve been?” He sighed, leaning over his knees as he closed his eyes.

Jenna frowned. She then stood up, walking around the couch and sitting next to Hank. The doe delicately placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t say that,” Jenna replied softly. “I figure you’re a real asset to the team.”

“I’ve gotten plenty o’ time to prove that,” said Hank. “And all season, I ain’t made a lick o’ difference to the team’s performance.”

“The season ain’t over yet,” Jenna replied. “We ain’t even two thirds of the way there!” She sighed, scooting closer to Hank and draping an arm over his shoulders. “Look… Ya got a good game. Someone in management saw that.” Jenna shrugged. “Do you really think they’d have let ya in if they didn’t see you as havin’ any talent?”

“Well, frankly, anythin’s possible ‘round these parts,” Hank replied bitterly. “They let Atticus in.”

“Well, even if he ain’t the best player out there, and even if he is a bit of an ornery one, ya can’t fault Atticus for his enthusiasm,” said Jenna. “That passion probably told your GM’s gut to at least give him a chance.” She then looked at Hank directly. “I figure your GM did the same for you there, too. I know he wouldn’t have brought ya on if he didn’t see your passion.”

Hank sighed. “I just… I just want ta help my team,” Hank replied, closing his eyes. “I want ta feel like I mean somethin’ ta them.”

“Well, you’re getting put on the starting line, so someone believes in ya enough that they think ya do have something to add,” said Jenna. “And ya know what? The last time you were there on the starting line… when was that?”

“Start o’ the season, just about,” Hank replied.

“Then I figure you ain’t the same player then as ya are now,” Jenna replied. “Your team’s hopefully found its groove, you’re used to the lifestyle by now… lots of things’ve changed since then.” She shifted her position. “So the way I see it, ya can either keep worrying about how you’re gonna perform, or you can bring everything ya got to prove that you do have something to bring to Tennessee.”

Jenna patted Hank’s shoulder as he looked at her. “And it doesn’t have to be proof for anyone else, either,” she continued. “It doesn’t even have to be to prove your coach right to put ya there. Ya can just prove it to me, or even yourself. I know ya got what it takes, Hank. And even if ya haven’t had the best luck in games, I know you can carry your team.”

Hank paused, considering Jenna carefully. He looked away, but his head was not hanging. All the failures, all the lost games, all the forced smiles, all the tears…

Hank sighed, rubbing his muzzle. “It’s still lots o’ pressure,” he said. “I just hope my knee don’t get tore up again.”

Jenna smiled more broadly, pulling Hank closer as she vigorously rubbed Hank’s shoulder. “It won’t,” she said. She then looked over. “I can bring the guys over, ya know. We’ll cheer ya on.”

And then, Hank gave a soft smile to Jenna.

“I’d… I’d appreciate that, Jenna,” he said. He then yawned, looking ahead. “I should probably get ta bed. I ain’t gonna be any use ta them for sure if I show up ta practice tired.”

Jenna patted Hank on the back. “That’s the spirit!” she said. She then stood up, Hank doing the same thing. “I better leave ya to it, then. I’ll be out in the stands. Don’t ya worry about a thing.”

Hank nodded. “Thank ya, Jenna,” he said. “I guess I just needed someone ta remind me.”

“Any time, Hank,” Jenna replied. They then walked over to the door. “I’ll see ya tomorrow.”

“I’ll see ya then,” Hank said as Jenna grabbed her jacket.

She then bundled up, preparing for the cold. As Hank watched her walk out to her car, Hank found himself looking at his hands. He then looked back up at Jenna as she entered her car.

As soon as she had started the vehicle, Hank closed the front door. He then walked to his bed with a resolute look on his face. As he laid in bed, he looked back to the phone. The phone rested silently on the night stand, a reminder for Hank.

Hank frowned, plugging it in and quickly turning it to silent. He then turned around, laying his head on the pillow in the darkness.

And as he fell asleep, Hank’s mind was already gearing towards his purpose at the game the next day.

I’ve got something to prove…

The last quarter of the game was especially tense on all fronts. After the Moonshiners had managed to shave the Lone Stars’ lead in the third quarter, the fourth quarter became a race to see who could out-score the other, and though Texas danced with the lead a few times Tennessee was more than up for the challenge of undoing it every so often. Hank sat out of some part of the fourth quarter, but he used the time to stretch his legs.

And when he was returned back to the court, Hank was galvanized. The Lone Stars were still ahead, but Hank knew there was opportunity to take the lead again.

And so, he stepped onto the court, facing down Buck Hopper once again. He grinned, relishing the challenge that going up against an FBA legend offered at this point.

The whistle sounded, and then once again it became a match to see who could get more points than the other.

And Hank lived in it. He was on fire when he was in the final quarter, and while most of his contributions had come during the game’s third quarter, Hank kept up the momentum there: he scored his last attempted three-pointer of the game, racked up quite a few assists, and generally just tore up the court with his performance.

And then, the shot clock turned off. Texas had a hold of the ball; this time, the ball was in the hands of Chester Blackwater, Hank watching as the alligator quickly rushed for Tennessee’s goalpost. Hank watched him intently, following along as Roni Fulton took a position to guard the neck. Chester came to a stop, dribbling the ball on Roni and Hank’s watch. Behind him, Hank could feel Buck get into place, Chester watching Roni as both sides waited for the other to move.

And then, Chester feinted for the hoop, and moved to pass the ball over. However, as soon as the ball left Chester’s hands in a pass to Ahti Nereus, Roni reached out, grasping the ball mid-bounce. The raccoon then ran as fast as he could, leaving the Lone Stars to stand there in surprise.

Hank followed Runi, rushing for the other basket. He ran harder than he ever had in his life, stopping only at the three-point line. He turned just in time, too, bringing his hands out to catch a pass from Roni.

As soon as he got the ball, Buck Hopper was already on top of Hank. Hank could only turn away, dribbling the ball as he kept one eye on the net. He frowned, determination set on his features as he glanced over at his teammates and pondered his next course of action.

Hank took one look at the shock clock as it counted down. He was deceptively close to the net; Buck was right there his gaze piercing. Hank certainly felt the pressure from Buck’s gaze, but Hank’s nerves remained calm. He was close to the end, he thought of a way to move...

And then, with a burst of speed, Hank rushed right past Buck Hopper. Buck was unable to meet Hank’s sudden burst of speed, something that Hank noted as he leapt up in front of the net. Buck Hopper jumped up at the same time, the rabbit holding his hands up to block the ball. But Hank had instinctively accounted for that: he moved the ball maybe just a fraction of an inch to the side, the ball barely missing Buck’s hand on its way to the net.

Hank let go of the ball. He then landed, watching as the ball slipped through the net.

And then, the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the match. Hank chanced one final look at the scoreboard high atop the Still, his tail hanging limp behind him.

The final score read as a hundred and two to ninety-seven points, in the end. But it was not the Lone Stars that had claimed the game as a victory.

Hank took in a deep breath. He almost could not believe what he saw on that scoreboard. Time seemed to slow down as he stared at the scoreboard, his mind unable to process that the Moonshiners had, in fact, won the game.

And then, he turned his attention to the announcers’ booth.

“And tonight’s player of the game is… number nine of the home team… Tennessee’s very own pickin’ rookie, Hank Sawyer!”

The home crowd’s roar was deafening, and yet after the announcement it sounded about as loud as one of his mother’s lullabies.

Hank’s legs wobbled beneath him. He then fell to his knees, his hands shaking in front of him as he looked up at the fans. His eyes glanced around the stadium, and eventually his gaze fell on Jenna, who was jumping in joy alongside Dale and Blake, Danny simply standing off to the side and clapping. But seeing Jenna smile like that…

Hank squeezed his eyes shut, and released a jubilant cry as he pumped his clenched fists in the air. He leaned back, his cry drowned out by the cheering of the crowd. After a few seconds, he leaned over his knees, breathing in and out as he tried to process the sheer euphoria he felt.

It barely registered when he was pulled to his feet by his teammates. Hank was nearly sobbing in joy as fellow players congratulated him, only his father’s parenting preventing him from having a complete outburst. And his joy was only amplified further as the Lone Stars went up and did the customary round of handshakes.

Hank found himself too wrapped up in his own joy to hear anything, or indeed to reply in any way other than a breathless ‘thank you’. He had just proved himself, after all. He had proved himself worthy of being in the FBA, he had proved himself to fans…

But more importantly, he had proved to himself that he did matter. He himself had proved Jenna right, and the realization that he came to at that moment was wonderful. And nothing could take that revelation away, not even the possibility of a losing streak that lasted the rest of the season.

And so, he raised his head high, letting the moment sink in.

Featured Characters

Hank Sawyer Roni Fulton The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition.

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