Karl-Anthony Towns meekly approached his teammate Taj Gibson in the locker room, wordlessly holding out an envelope in front of him.
Taj looked at Karl-Anthony coldly. “Whatever that is, I don’t want it.”
Karl-Anthony held the envelope out further, but when Taj still didn’t take it, he slipped it inside Taj’s gym bag. “It’s an invitation to my Valentine’s party. If you have a special someone, feel free to bring them. Lots of heart-shaped cookies. Lots of booze. Guaranteed to be a good time for singles and couples alike.”
Remembering the last time he had been involved to one of Karl-Anthony’s parties, Taj’s face became warm. That had been the ultimate embarrassment, walking into Karl-Anthony’s apartment only to find him and Brianna, in the middle of…he didn’t want to think about it anymore. He didn’t say a word to his teammate as he slung his bag over his shoulder and walked out.
Taj looked down at his buzzing phone to see that he had received a text message from his teammate Jimmy Butler. “U going to KAT’s party tomorrow?”
“It’s probably just a trick to embarrass me further,” Taj replied.
A minute passed before Jimmy set his response. “He droped a bunch of money to rent a room at a fancy restaurant and he hired a band to play love songs. Its legit man. My girl way too excited for it, LOL”
Jimmy’s response put doubt into Taj’s mind. He had been sure that this whole thing was just another elaborate ploy to exploit his burning love for Brianna for the entertainment of the rest of the team. Now, he wasn’t so sure. He retrieved the unopened invitation and quickly skimmed the details: it was indeed being held at one of fanciest restaurants in the Twin Cities. There was a Facebook event link as well – Taj went to it on his phone to see that all of his teammates had already indicated their attendance at the party. Feeling an odd combination of unease and excitement, Taj did the same.
“Lovely Brianna, would you consider
Being my date for a soiree so grand
We will chat and laugh together
At Karl’s party, hand in hand
Dance to a slow song, your body against mine
I would woo you with a poet’s loving stanzas
On exquisite food then we would dine
At Karl’s Valentine’s Day extravaganza
Please let me know of your decision
By tomorrow at the very latest
My breath catches when you enter my vision
Our love together could only be the greatest”
Taj re-read his words, and, satisfied with their quality, tucked the newly-written poem under the door to the dance team’s locker room.
Taj entered the back room of the restaurant, and, thanking the waiter who had shown him the way, found a half-full table where some of his friends were already sitting. “Hey Jimmy,” Taj said as he sat down. “Where’s your girl?”
Jimmy pointed at a young woman cutting a piece off of a gigantic heart-shaped cake. “She’s so happy. I’m just sitting here wondering when they open up the cash bar.”
Taj laughed, but he stung a little bit. Brianna had never replied to his invitation or even indicated that she had received it. He was relieved to see that some of his other teammates, like Tyus and Marcus, had come without dates.
“Oh, there’s Karl!” Jimmy exclaimed. “Yo! Sit over here man!”
Taj turned to look, and his heart dropped. Karl-Anthony was walking in with none other than a giggling, beaming Brianna on his arm. He tried to shake his head and wave his arms to get Jimmy to stop encouraging Karl-Anthony, but it was no use; Karl-Anthony and Brianna sat down right next to Taj at their table. Taj could only take short, furtive glances at the beautiful Brianna wearing her small cocktail dress.
“Hey Taj, nice poem,” Karl-Anthony said, clapping Taj on the back. “You really have a way with words, my man.” As soon as he and Brianna sat down, they began to kiss passionately and loudly, taking breaks only to whisper things like “I love you” or “You’re my one and only”. For their part, Jimmy and Jamal looked horrified at this scene, knowing what the knew about Taj’s obsession with Brianna.
Taj tried to play it off. “I’m gonna get some appetizers,” he said with false cheeriness, quickly getting up to walk to the table where food was arrayed. But as he stood there, looking at the pigs-in-a-blanket and the stuffed mushrooms, he could still hear the romantic overtures of Karl-Anthony. He randomly loaded up a plate with various foods, determined to act normally, and returned to the table in silence. However, every time Karl-Anthony introduced Brianna to an arriving guest as “my lovely Brianna,” another fragment fell away from his shattered heart.
“I gotta get going,” he said suddenly. “Nice party Karl.”
“I wrote her a poem too, you know,” Karl-Anthony said smugly as Brianna giggled. “It was my penis.”
Taj couldn’t stop the tears from forming in his eyes as he speed-walked through the restaurant back out to his car, and when he sat down in the driver’s seat, he broke down into shuddering sobs.