2 MONTHS LATER
The hallway that led to the basketball offices was bathed in eerie off-season quiet. My shoes clicked against the tile, causing a bombardment of sound to echo off of the ancient walls, and I couldn't help but cringe at the commotion I was causing to the stillness around me. Surprisingly I didn't feel the least bit intrusive, however, and perhaps that was only because of my certainty that I wasn't the only soul in the Old Gym, despite the apparent emptiness of the place. There was, I knew, a sliver of light showing from beneath the door of the head coach's office, and I found myself cracking a smile at the way my father's work never seemed to end. Only two months away from being crowned National Champions and he was already back to scouting.
I shifted the bag of game tapes slung over my shoulder and stopped abruptly in my movement as the ring of my cell phone cut shrilly through the silence of the hallway. Pushing the bag aside, I fumbled through my pocket with my free hand until I was able to locate it and flip it open.
"Mrs. Morrison? This is your landlord speaking…" a curtly familiar voice began, and I felt my lips unconsciously curving into a smile.
"Oh, for God's sake, LJ, how many times have I told you to quit calling me that?" I demanded, shoving my bag of tapes further up my arm and trapping the phone between my neck and shoulder. "We're not even engaged yet, might I remind you…"
"Ah, yes, but might I remind you that moving in together is just a baby step below marriage," he pointed out, chuckling unabashedly into the phone. "Ahh, and while we're on the subject of babies…!"
"LJ, let's not discuss this again…"
"Fine, have it your way," he relented, clearing his throat loudly. "Anyway, Mrs.-not-quite-Morrison, if you'd rather, I was just calling to inform you that your new abode will be ready to furnish at precisely five o'clock this evening, if you would like to make an appointment…"
"Wells has everything moved out already?" I asked with a touch of surprise, reaching up and grappling for the phone to keep from dropping it.
LJ promptly dropped his haughty tone and sighed heavily. "Well, you know Wells."
I felt a slight smile tugging at my lips. "Yes, I certainly do. Is he home?" I asked, and LJ chuckled.
"Nope. He's making his rounds to see everybody before he leaves tomorrow, I think," he responded, his tone slightly clipped. I smiled slightly in resignation. While LJ had embraced the fact that his friend was indeed leaving him behind and had stated multiple times how very happy he was for him, I knew it was still a tough subject for him to breach.
"How are you doing?" I asked him, and he made an annoyed sound in response.
"I've heard that so many times in the past couple of weeks, good Jesus. You'd think he was my freaking wife!"
I couldn't help but laugh, although I knew he was just trying to weasel out of responding seriously. "Well, LJ, you can let the "landlord" know that I'll be by later this evening to start moving in," I decided, and he chuckled appreciatively.
"I'll certainly let him know," he responded mock-seriously. "See you later then."
I replied likewise and flipped the phone shut, adjusting my bag of tapes into a more comfortable position as I began to walk once more. How strange it was, I thought to myself, that Wells would be leaving for the draft tomorrow. It seemed like no time at all had passed since he'd first told me of his fateful decision, but, oh, how it really had. We'd had an unofficial going away party for him last night in which the entire team, clad in their National Champion's T-shirts and hats, had crowded into the living room of my father's house, many toasts were made, and I don't think anyone had left dry-eyed. I couldn't help but let out a sigh as it hit me how much things were about to change. Wells would be gone, and I…I'd be taking his bedroom.
I'd just turned a corner and was darting in the direction of the basketball offices when my path was abruptly impeded by an unidentified male body. I let out a little yelp and dropped my armful of tapes on the ground with a sickening crash that echoed throughout the empty hallway and immediately went to defending myself, surprising my attacker with a sloppy kick in the shin.
"Shit, Hayden!" he yelled, doubling over in pain, and I started uncomfortably upon the realization that I must have known this poor fellow. "I come in peace!"
Feeling a rush of embarrassment, I raced toward Adam and ruffled his hair apologetically. "I'm so sorry, I…thought you were going to kill me," I admitted sheepishly, and he quirked a smile as he straightened to his full height.
"I believe it would be more accurate to say it was the other way around," he countered, chuckling slightly at my confusion and moving to retrieve my scattered videotapes.
"Are you okay?" I asked, watching in concern as he bent down slowly, picked up my discarded sack, and promptly began depositing tapes into it.
"I'll be fine," he assured, his eyes dancing in the dim illumination of many burnt out lights, and I couldn't help but notice what a youthful contrast he was to the agedness of the building surrounding him. He always seemed to cast his own glow, Adam Morrison, and perhaps that was what I loved so much about him.
"Where did you come from?" I asked, dropping to my knees and helping him with the tapes, and I couldn't help but notice the unintended double meaning behind my words. How had we come to this point, this boy and I? He'd managed to turn my world upside down with nothing more than a quirk of the lips and a blink of his dizzy, otherworldly eyes. He was so different, so real, and he was mine. God, he was mine.
"Just the locker room," he answered after a pause, as if he, too, were sorting out scattered thoughts. "I was talking to Wells when I heard you coming, so I came out here to see what was going on…I didn't mean to scare you." Adam stood then, deposited the last of the tapes into the bag, and heaved it over his shoulder. I mimicked his movement so that I was standing directly in front of him, and he rewarded me with a lopsided grin before reaching out and pulling me to him. I melted against him eagerly, sending a silent word of thanks to whatever diving force had brought him into my life. He was my everything, and as I thought back to December, to that fateful day that I had pulled my car into my father's driveway, I couldn't help but smile.
The two of us stood in silence for a long moment, the only sound the distant flickering of the Gym's aged lights, until finally he leaned down and kissed my forehead. "I'll go ahead and take this bag for you, okay?" he offered, and I reached out and absentmindedly brushed back his hair. It had gotten shaggier, I realized then, and curlier. It was constantly in his face, but I couldn't help but like it that way. It captured him perfectly. "You should probably go talk to Wells," he suggested, and I nodded, trying to ignore the sudden feeling of turmoil that had arisen in my stomach.
"Is he okay?" I asked, and Adam offered only a helpless smile in response before pulling away from me and continuing on in the direction of the basketball offices.
"I'll see you at the house, love," he called over his shoulder, and then he was gone, erased from my sight by the darkness ahead of him. I watched after him for a moment, pretending I could still see his silhouette moving away from me, and finally smiled slightly in realization that I was absolutely whipped. I laughed a little, shook my head at my absentmindedness, and began to wander languidly in the opposite direction until I made it to the locker room. I hovered in front of the door for a moment, wondering fruitlessly whether I should perhaps knock, until finally dispelling all doubts by turning the knob and entering quietly.
The room was as dimly lit as the hallway, and for a moment I was positively sure I was alone until I noticed the form of a boy with sandy curls kneeling on the floor in front of his basketball locker. I approached him slowly, feeling almost intrusive for disrupting his solitude. I stopped directly behind him, but he didn't look up or even make any sort of movement to acknowledge that he knew I was there. Rather, he seemed quite involved in studying his old jersey.
Forcing a breath of air over the lump in my throat, I leaned against the locker beside him and said, "Getting all packed?" He whirled around quickly, his chest heaving in surprise, and I felt a stab of remorse. "I'm sorry," I said quickly, leaning down and touching his shoulder gently. "I didn't mean to sneak up on you."
"No, it's okay," he assured, managing an unconvincing smile, and when I noticed the shakiness of his voice, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd been crying. "I'm just…tying up the loose ends, I guess. I can't believe I'm leaving for New York tomorrow..."
"I know…" I said softly, and couldn't help but shake my head at the awkwardness of the moment. "And I'll be cheering for you – the whole team will. We're going to miss you, Wells."
He stood up and managed a weak smile. "I'll miss you too, Hayden." When he reached out and embraced me, it was all I could do to fight back the tears that were stinging my eyes.
"You're going to be amazing in the NBA, Wells," I said softly, forcing words over the lump in my throat, and Wells managed a shaky chuckle.
"I certainly hope so," he said softly, pulling away from me and focusing his intense gaze on his locker. "This was the hardest decision I've ever had to make."
We lapsed into a companionable silence, and it struck me with a strange intensity how much I truly respected Luke Welling. He would go on to do great things, this humble young man with sandy hair and a boyish face. He would make something outstanding of himself, he would shine, and I could say that I had had the pleasure of knowing him once, even if only for a short time.
"You'll come back and visit sometimes, won't you?" I asked softly, and the point guard nodded emphatically.
"I'll be back as much as I can during the off-season," he assured, bending over suddenly and picking up his jersey. He cradled it to his chest. "I can't just leave my life behind entirely, y'know?"
"I know," I agreed, and I was struck by how much his statement paralleled my own life. As much as I'd wanted to initially, Luke Welling was right – I couldn't just leave my life behind. And finally, after so many years of running and hiding, I'd finally accepted the truth about who I was. I was Hayden Palmer, daughter of Jim Palmer. I was a pure-blooded Oregonian. And, goodness, I was proud of it.
Wells and I basked in silence for a long moment, both of us lost in our own respective thoughts, until the slamming of the locker room door jarred us from our pensive state. Footsteps resounded on the stairs, and suddenly Adam appeared in front of us, a touch of a smile on his face.
"All packed, Wells?" he asked, and the point guard seemed to clutch his jersey tighter.
"It's looking like it, mate," he replied, managing a sort of resigned smile. Adam nodded and clapped his former teammate on the back, and the two of them stopped for a moment before charging at each other in a brotherly embrace. I watched them in awe, tears threatening, and finally Wells pulled away. He bent over and slammed his locker shut for the last time, the sound resounding eerily throughout the locker room. It was an echo that absolutely screamed closure.
"I guess I should go give my jersey to Coach now," he decided, giving his closed locker one last fleeing glance. "He said something about it being retired."
"Here, I'll go with you," I decided impulsively, moving to follow the point guard up the stairs. "I'm heading over there anyway…I've got a lot of paperwork to do for next year anyway. You know my dad, he always likes to get an early start," I explained listlessly, and Wells's face broke into its trademark grin.
"You're sticking around for awhile then?" he asked, his eyes inquisitive, and I realized suddenly that I'd neglected to truly make any sort of formal announcement regarding my position with the basketball team. I had, after all, told my dad I was done, and dating Adam would certainly form an obstacle to my coaching career, especially now that the media had their hands on us. Our faces had appeared in lip lock on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and our relationship had been proclaimed as "scandalous" and "shocking".
But, really, who truly cared what they thought anymore? I loved Adam Morrison, and I didn't care who knew about it. But at the same time, I couldn't help but admit that I also loved the Oregon Ducks basketball program with all that I had. After all, I was a Palmer – basketball was in my blood, and if fate had anything at all to do with it, I was born for coaching.
I looked up at Adam then, and his smile was enough to dispel all lingering doubts. The words were out of my mouth before I could even control them, and I knew at that moment that I was truly a changed person. I could no longer run, for I had him at my side. Finally, I would be doing what I was born to do.
"Yes," I said, my voice resounding through the locker room of the Old Gym. "Yes, I think I am."
Author's note: Well, there you have it, the end of the road. First, let me just say how much I've appreciated all of you that have stuck with me from beginning to end. Your kind words truly inspired me to finish this thing, even when writer's block struck, and thus I dedicate this story to you, my loyal reviewers. It's been a long, winding road, and it saddens me that it's over. However, for all you DLG fans, I'll now be posting the revised version (which, in my own opinion, is much, much better). Please, read and review that, if you'd like. I'd really like to hear your opinions on it, as I am hopefully going to try and get it published. Updates should be fairly soon since it's already written out.
As for this story: now that we've reached the end, I'd really like to get your feedback. Did the story end how you hoped it would? What did you like the most about DLG? What did you like the least? Who were your favorite/least favorite characters? What was your favorite/least favorite moment? Is there anything I could have done better? What do you think about a sequel? Please let me know. I'd love to get a lot more reviews if at all possible.
Thanks so much for everything, guys, I really appreciate it!