Whe william reached the bulls practice facility, he nodded at the security officer, then the kid behind the desk. He was aware
that his breath was short in his chest; he was winded from what Sylvie had told him the night before. He felt the news only in his body; it moved in and out of his lungs. He’d needed to come here before allowing himself to absorb it fully. William headed onto the courts; the air thumped with balls hitting the floor. William walked around the edge of the cavernous space and into the exam room, where he knew Kent would be. And he was there, taping a rookie’s knee.
The rookie spotted William first and got the look that most players adopted around him when they were limping, bruised, or injured in any way. It wasn’t unusual for an injured player to catch sight of William and try to scuttle away, crab-like.
“This is a small thing, Will,” the rookie said. “Kent is confident— you’re confident, right, Doc?—I’ll be ready for the first game.”
William waved his hand. “I saw you warming up yesterday. You’ll be fine. You’ve got good wheels.”
The rookie collapsed back on the exam table, visibly relieved.
Kent laughed over the tape roll in his hands and the motion made his dreadlocks shake.
“You see things,” the kid said, still lying down. “Everyone knows that. We’ve all heard about the injuries you’ve predicted. You’re
famous for being…” He paused for a moment, searching for the right words. “Clairvoyant, maybe. Or whatever a guy witch is called.”
William leaned against the other exam table, suddenly tired. “A wizard.”
“No,” the kid said, toward the ceiling. “That’s not it. But you can see when we’re not okay.”
William had no more smiles in him, but if he had, he would have used one now. The rookie was right; William’s job was to see when a player wasn’t okay.
“Most of the time what William sees can be fixed,” Kent said. He pressed the final strip of tape across the knee and studied his work. “You cowards should be begging him to look at you, not hiding from him like little kids. You can go.”
“I got good wheels,” the rookie said. “I’m happy about that.” He hopped off the table onto his healthy leg, grabbed his sneakers, and strolled out of the room.
Kent straightened up. The doctor resembled a football player more than the power forward he used to be. Due to a combination of weight lifting and an enthusiasm for food, he’d widened considerably since college. He and Nicole had divorced a year earlier, and Kent had only recently started to regain his propulsive energy and big laugh. He’d often cut onto the court on his way in and out of the building, trying to steal the ball off a player, even though he was almost fifty and his patients were elite athletes in their prime. The players ran away from William, but they wanted to be around Kent.
Kent’s face was serious, though, while he studied his friend from behind his black-framed glasses. He indicated slightly with his head, a signal for William to talk.
“Did Sylvie show you her MRI scan?”
Kent’s shoulders dropped. “She told you.”
William closed his eyes for a moment. He’d pictured Sylvie handing her medical file to Kent; he was the person they both thought of in case of an emergency. Sylvie might have thought:
Maybe Kent can save me. “I figured,” William said, “that she might have spoken to you first, seen what you thought.”
“She saw the best specialist at Northwestern. I made some calls, checked him out. There was a second opinion. The diagnosis is correct.”
The air in the room felt dark, but perhaps it was just William turning dark. “She said she turned down most of the treatment. That she has something like six months.”
Kent gave a single, effortful nod, as if he had to fight the air to move. “I thought she was going to do that.”
“What do you think?”
“I’d do the same thing, in her position. It’s the brave choice. The treatment is almost as bad as what she’s got.”
William noticed Kent’s arm twitch, and said, “I don’t want a hug.” “I know.”
William glanced at his watch, although he didn’t care what time it was. He’d gotten what he needed here. Confirmation. Sylvie’s news was real, because Kent had said so. He headed out of the room. “I have some things to take care of,” he said. “I might come back this afternoon, but I might not.”
“I’m gonna get you through this.” Kent jogged to catch up with William. “I’m not going to leave you alone. Your meds are solid. It’s going to be hard, but you’ll be able to bear it.”
“I have to think,” William said, but by then he had pushed out the front door of the building and was alone on the sidewalk. He could feel his friend behind him, wanting to follow but stopping himself.
William walked toward Pilsen. His skin hurt. His hair hurt. His knee, which rarely bothered him anymore, hurt. He’d hoped Kent would say that Sylvie had misunderstood the doctor or that there was a cure she wasn’t aware of yet. He made his way by muscle memory to Throop Park. This was where Arash still held his weekly clinic, so William knew every inch of the outdoor court. He found a beat-up basketball under a bench and began to dribble. The sound
of a ball hitting the ground calmed him; it untangled his heartbeats and allowed him to think straighter. William had noticed a change in Sylvie—a slight hesitation in her movements—a few months earlier, but he’d thought it was just due to aging. An infinitesimal slowing of her muscles, joints, and tendons. William had thought, We’re in the middle of our lives, after all. He never would have reached this point, the middle, without her.
- He made the ball pound the cement. His wife had looked at him with her wide-open, beautiful face last night. She was his city, his sky. She had given him a life, two and a half decades earlier. He hadn’t deserved it; for the first few years of their relationship, he’d told himself, You should leave. You should break up with her. But he couldn’t bear to. He’d always known that the rift that had occurred in the Padavano family was his fault. The ensuing silence between Sylvie and Julia was his fault. Julia moving to New York City and staying there was his fault. Sylvie disagreed, but she was too kind, and he knew she had convinced herself that that was the truth because she loved him. William had let the lie continue for this long because he loved his life with Sylvie; he loved her and was as happy as it was possible for him to be. He hadn’t wanted anything to change. He’d been a coward.
Not anymore, he thought. William was going to lose everything that mattered to him. But first he could do everything possible to make Sylvie feel beloved and whole.
He had gazed at his wife’s face last night and known what he had to do. There was only one answer. When William had dribbled long enough to break a sweat and his entire body was warm, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and called his first wife.