“Hey Taj, I know you’re bummed that we lost, but could you at least try to look happy?” Derrick Rose said to his teammate Taj Gibson as they sat together at a table in a Los Angeles club. “No girls want to come over here when you’re hunched over writing stuff in your little diary.” He sneaked a mozzarella stick from the basket of them that Taj had ordered but not touched.
“It’s not just ‘stuff’,” Taj replied. “It’s poems for my beloved.”
Derrick raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know you had a girlfriend back home,” he said through a mouthful of breaded, deep-fried cheese.
“She’s not technically my girlfriend…yet,” Taj clarified. He set the book and pen down, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to come up with the right words for his poem if Derrick was going to annoy him by trying to make conversation. “But she will be.”
“And your poems are gonna make the difference?” Derrick asked. “Why not, just, tell her you’re an NBA player? Then you can bang. It’s easy. I do it all the time. I could do it right now.” His eyes followed a shapely young woman who had just walked by their table on the way to the dance floor, then snapped back to Taj when he started talking again.
“Brianna is not swayed by such brutish displays of machismo,” Taj said. “She is my perfect angel.”
“Brianna? The same Brianna that Karl keeps bragging about? The cheerleader Brianna?”
Taj’s cheeks turned red with hot shame as he remembered how Karl-Anthony would vocally and frequently brag about the carnal nature of his relationship with Brianna. “Yeah. Her.”
Derrick shook his head. “Man, you’ve been hung up on cheerleaders since our Bulls days. You gotta give that up.”
Taj was silent for a while. He was remembering Caroline, the beautiful, yet pure, cheerleader he had attempted to woo with poetry back in Chicago. He had moved on from her, but it still pained his heart to remember how Mike Dunleavy had taken her for his own. “Caroline…” he whispered, not aware he was speaking aloud.
Derrick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Was that her name?” He seemed to struggle with something for a bit, then went on, “Taj, I gotta tell you, man…I banged her too. Caroline. Sorry.” He grabbed another mozzarella stick to ease the awkwardness.
Taj felt another piece of heart break off and fall out of him. “Whatever. It’s fine,” he replied without emotion.
“Now that I think of it…she did mention some ‘creep’ who was ‘stalking her with poems’,” Derrick added. “But I bet she was talking about somebody else, because you’re not that creepy.” Taj simply sat in silence when presented with this new information.
“Anyway, I’m gonna go flirt with those chicks over there,” Derrick said, standing up from his seat. “Don’t get too down about it, it’s in the past. I’m sure Brianna loves your poems.”
Much later in that night, Taj was still sitting in that same spot, staring at his lap. The mozzarella sticks were cold and forgotten in front of him as tear after slow tear dropped from his eyes.