PROLOGUE Fifteen years ago in Vegas
“One!” he shouted. He wanted to do at least five before he left to meet his curfew. He needed the practice.
“Be home before nine,” Sebastian’s mother had insisted, “It could have been you instead of that little girl.”
He missed the next one and the one after that. He missed most of the time but he was persistent. One attempt after another as the day grew darker. It was dusk and the desert sun was turning a deep orange as it slid from the sky.
“Two! Two already.”
The ball ricocheted off the metal backboard and dropped through the chain netting. He knew he would sink more if he could get some more practice but the other boys seldom let him use the court.
Somewhere in the distance a dog yelped in distress. The sound caught his attention and he turned but he couldn’t see anything and the sky was getting darker so he began shooting more quickly.
He had only sunk two baskets and he needed to sink five before he hurried upstairs to his apartment. It was such good fortune to find the courts empty like this. At this time most of the other kids were at the mall or at some girl’s house sharing a bottle of something they had stolen from a parent too drunk to notice it missing. This was the only time when he could find the courts empty.
The boys in the complex called Sebastian, “Pudge”.
He would have loved to play basketball with them after school when the sun was shining and it was a real game. That’s when they kept score and argued vehemently over fouls and crowds of kids stood by shouting encouragement to friends and abuse at the others. The courts were alive then. In the light of the day he could sink more than half of his shots. He was sure of it and of course he would get better with competition but they didn’t like him and they seldom let him play during that desirable time.
He held the ball with two hands between his legs and heaved it up like a five year old shooting a ball and he missed again. At school, the teachers liked him and he did well but he wasn’t good at sports. He liked to read books. He liked both new stuff and the older books by Mark Twain or Bram Stoker.
Once his teacher told his mother, “I’ve never met such a bright boy. We should consider excelling him into a higher grade or maybe even two grades higher.”
Sebastian’s mother didn’t always have the best parenting skills but she knew her son and she realized if he didn’t fit in with the kids his own age then it would be a disaster to put him ahead. He would be a freak if he was placed in a grade with older students. He would be a mascot not a friend. Even now he tutored the children in the higher grades with mathematics and this made him stand out enough although the truth was that Sebastian loved to do mathematics.
There were math contests on the internet that allowed you to compete with kids from all over the world. Sometimes he would start working on a math puzzle while eating some dinner and his mother would come home after midnight and find him sleeping by his computer. He never told the children in the apartment complex about his love of math, he said he liked basketball. Sebastian knew this was the way to fit in.
“Three!” He wiped his brow. “Finally, three.”
The dog whimpered again.