The score was 89-90. One second left on the clock. Brandt stepped up to the free throw line. If he makes these two free throws, they would be state champions again. The home crowd was deathly silent, as if at a funeral. He bounced the ball a few times, then glanced at his new crisp white socks.
The Day Before
He took off the socks. He couldn’t believe it, but he actually took them off. It felt strange as he peeled off the orange and green cotton that had covered his feet and ankles for three months. A pang of guilt reverberated through him and he started second-guessing himself. Is he crazy? What would his team think? Tomorrow is the championship basketball game.
He pushed those thoughts aside and jumped into the shower. It was strange to feel the water run freely between his toes. His mind wandered to Kristen Bell, his date tonight. He has had a crush on her for three years and it was only this year that he actually got a chance to get to know her through chemistry lab group. Apparently, she has had a thing for him as well. Being the star point guard for the state basketball champion team two years in a row probably was a factor in getting her attention, too. If they win tomorrow’s game, that would be a new record in state basketball history. No team has ever won 3 years in a row. And no one person has ever been a three time high school basketball champion.
Anyway, he was looking forward to telling Kristen how he changed his socks for her. He was sure that would make her feel special. He though about how he might tell her. He imagined the monologue in his head.
“Kristen, I wanted to let you know how special you are to me… “ and then he would raise up his slacks to expose the crisp white socks underneath. She would swoon and reply, “Oh, Brandt! You’re special to me, too!” Then, they would gaze into each other’s eyes.
DING DONG! The door bell broke Brandt out of his trance. ‘Holy Cow! Is it 6 o’ clock, already?’ Brandt thought in his head. He buttonoed up his shirt and got to the door as the door bell rang for the third time. He opened the door out of breath and there stood Kristen.
“Hi!” Brandt blurted. “Sorry, I was finishing getting dressed.”
Her mildly annoyed look softened. “I was beginning to think you stood me up.” She smiled. “You ready to go, Socks?” I don’t want to keep you out too late. Tomorrows’ your big game!”
“Yeah! I’m totally ready. Let’s go!”
They started walking down the steps to her car. He stopped awkwardly at the front of the car. She noticed his hesitation.
“Is something wrong?” Kristen asked.
“Uh… this is just a little different than I imagined it… “ Brandt stuttered.
“What? My car? You don’t like subarus?”
“No. No… I should be picking you up… and opening the door for you… but it seems weird to open the door for someone on the driver’s… “ his voice trailed off.
“”You’ll be able to get your license back in a few months…. It’s no big deal… I’ll tell you what… why don’t you come on over here and open my door for me…”. She shut her door and waited.
At that, Brandt smiled sheepishly and opened the driver’s side for for Kristen. She thanked him politely, and he ran around to the passenger’s side to get in.
“Where we going, Socks?” She asked with a twinkle in her eye. Her red hair and freckles gave her a look of playfulness that always put him at ease. She was wearing jeans and a blue long-sleeve top with the high school logo on it. Maybe a little underdressed for where he was planning, but he thought it would be fine.
“The Chop House,” he said confidently.
She looked over a little surprised, “Woah! Big spender! Are you serious? We don’t have to go anywhere super expensive.”
“Yeah. I mean, that is… if you like steak.”
“Yeah! It’s my favorite!” She responded with a smile.
“Then, let’s go!” He beamed. He could hardly contain himself.
“OK!” She started the car and backed out of the driveway.
When she started moving forward, he noticed the rabbit’s foot hanging and swinging from the rear view mirror.
“I didn’t know you were superstitious,” Brandt said watching Kristen drive.
“Yeah… I mean, a little,” she replied, “I mean, compared to you, that is.”
“Huh?” he asked.
“Y’know…. I mean who wears the same socks without taking it off for all three months of a basketball season? That’s crazy. I mean, I think it’s super cute. I’m so excited for you for when you win your third championship tomorrow! Have you though about what you’re going to do with those socks? Maybe you should tear them off in center court as the crowds are carrying you around changing ‘Sock, socks, socks!’ That’ll be so cool! I’ll bet they’ll want to hang them up in the gym next to the championship banner in a frame.”
Brandt didn’t say anything. He just looked forward.
She looked over and saw his serious face.
“Oh no. Did I say something wrong? Did I jinx it? You think I’m jinxing it. Oh no! I’m so sorry.” She kept looking over at him.
“No. No. It’s not that.” He replied.
“What is it?”
There was a long pause. This was not going the way Brandt had imagined it in his mind. He finally said the words.
“I changed my socks.”
SCRREEEEEEEEECH! Kristen pulled over and skidded to a stop.
“You did what?!?! Why?!” Her voice was raised and agitated.
“I…. I did it for you.” It was meant to be a statement, but it came out more like a question.
“What? What?! What do you mean you did it for me?!” There was anger in her voice now.
“I… I…” Brandt stammered and all he could think was to raise hi pant leg and show her. When he did, white gleamed out between the bottom of his slacks and his dress shoes.
Kristen’s jaw dropped. Her eyes were wide. “Oh…. my…. gosh…. Please tell me this is a joke…. you are joking, right? Your championship socks are under those white socks, right?”
Brandt slowly raised his leg up and peeled the white sock down to his shoes to only show skin.
Kristen gasped in horror and her hands instinctively covered her mouth.
“Who else knows about this?” she asked with deadly serious intent.
“No one,”Brand said, a bit perplexed. “Why?”
“We are going home.” Kirsten’s car squealed as she pulled a U-turn and headed back toward his house.
“Brandt, listen to me. I’m going to take you home. You’re going to go put your socks back on. Please don’t tell anyone about our date.”
“What?” Brandt was confused and he could feel anger rising up. “What are you talking about?”
“Brandt!” Kristen snapped. “If everyone finds out that you took off your socks because of me, they’re going to hate me!”
“Kristen, no one is going to hate you. The socks are just something for fun. When I first wore the socks for a week my sophomore year, it was just for fun. Then, kids started calling me ‘socks’. Then this whole thing blew up and I just kept wearing them. It just kinda became a part of my identity. But we don’t need socks to win a basketball game. That’s crazy.”
“No, no, no! You don’t understand, Brandt!” Kristen was panicked. “When you lose tomorrow and everyone finds out that you changed your socks because of me, they’re going to crucify me. I won’t be able to look at instagram without someone cursing me out. Please, Brant. Don’t tell anyone.”
Brandt paused, thinking. “You think we’re going to lose?” He asked. “Because of my socks?” He was deeply offended. Kristen skidded into his driveway.
“OK, go inside and go put your socks back on. And please, please, please, don’t say anything to anyone.”
Brandt stared forward with his brow furrowed not knowing what to say or think.
“Please go!” Kristen insisted.
“Brandt got out of the car and walked into his house. He never looked back and there was a new determination that grew inside of him as he slammed the door behind him.
The crowd stared at Brandt in silence. They stared at his gleaming white socks as he raised the ball over his head and took aim at the basket.
“Where are your socks?” a heckler screamed through the silence.
Brandt dribbled the ball a few more times to clear his head. He could feel the accusing stares from the stands, from his teammates, from his coach.
He would show them. Winning has nothing to do with socks. He’s going to make two baskets to prove it. He raised the ball over his head and took aim. He held his breath and tossed the ball toward the hoop.