Written by FadedForest
“Mom,” Leon’s free paw drug across his face as he sighed, he had held no delusions that the call would go well. How could it when you are telling them you are breaking your promise? Already his father had spoken his peace and left, leaving just him and his mother to ‘talk.’
“I remember just fine, but-” he started to explain, only to be cut off by his mother’s high pitched voice over the phone.
“Then you know why your father and I are upset. We had an agreement. College first. But no, now you are telling us you are skipping college to chase some foolish dream.”
“It’s not foolish!” Leon snarled, claws protracting and scraping along the phone’s screen. The FBA had been his dream ever since Elementary School, all those hours on the court mimicking Buck Hopper and Barton Rouge. It was the reason he moved multiple states away to attend a basketball prep school, the reason he pushed himself in practice to his limits, the reason he-
Even over the phone, her scolding had the effect of a bucket of ice cold water being dumped on his hot head, his claws to retracted and tail to wrap around his leg. His free paw moved to grab his elbow, supporting the ever increasing weight of the phone. He frowned and spoke softer. “Mom...I can’t sit by and watch you all struggle.”
If not for the background noise he could hear he would have sworn the call had disconnected as the silence from his mother’s end stretched on. He knew she was probably trying to find the right words, ones that wouldn’t upset him and perhaps change his mind. But he was resolute and would not falter.
“Honey, that’s not something you should be worrying about. It’s an adult problem, that’s something we worry about, not you.”
He couldn’t stop the scoff that escaped his muzzle, “You know I’m eighteen now, so I guess that makes it my problem too right?”
“Oh Leon,” she replied wistfully, “you’ll always be my little cub in my eyes. You have so much ahead of you and we don’t want you to throw that away. Besides, your father will get a job! He just hasn’t found the right opportunity yet.”
Her words only made a frown deepen further on his face. It sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than him.
“It’s been six months Mom...” Leon whispered.
The plant closing hit the town hard. His parents had tried to shelter the kids from the reality of it, but every week it seemed Leon would hear of another family moving out of the town in the pursuit of work. “I can tell you're exhausted every time we talk. You can’t keep working doubles at the hospital for the overtime forever. If you get sick who’s going to take care of the family?”
“Mom...please,” he pleaded. She could stubborn and he knew he stood no real chance of convincing her, but perhaps he could abate her resolve. “I’ve already made up my mind. I’m going to do this. If not for you, at least let me do it for them.” He could hear his mother sigh, and he knew it was a low blow but nonetheless jumped on the opportunity to hammer his point.
“You know Luke wants to go to State, and he’s going to need help with tuition. Jesse and Kate are entering High School and you know how tough that can be. They need you and Dad there, not worrying about if you can survive till the next paycheck. So please, understand why I think this is what I have to do. Three million guaranteed in two years if I’m drafted, even higher if I go in the first round. That’s more money than I’ll make in twenty years with a college degree.”
“And if you fail?”
His fur bristled at her doubt, and he felt his claws protract once again, but this time he bit back the retort that begged to be uttered.
“Sweety...listen...I've seen the offer letters and we get at least two calls a day from college coaches wanting you to play at their school.”
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, “They should stop bothering you once the announcement is done.”
College recruitment might as well have been an open call for harassment. More than once he had been stopped by an alumnus or booster of some university hoping to convince him to attend their school with promises of money and gifts. Despite how tempting the offers were, he knew all of them would have been a violation of any number of collegiate rules and he would not jeopardize himself for a small term gain. Yet it was eye-opening how much some programs would risk if it meant a win.
But all the coming announcement of his admission to the draft would do is signal the next kettle of vultures to descend. Finding an agent would be stressful, but he hoped the school would at least help weed out the sharks from legitimate candidates. He had thought about asking his parents but...
“That’s not the problem! We just want you to have the opportunity to make something for yourself!”
They clearly did not support his decision. He sighed, perhaps a little too loud but he was tired and desperately wanted to the call to end.
“You may not see Mom, but there’s such an opportunity sitting right in front of me.” He paused and took a deep breath, wanting to say it with as much conviction as he could muster. “And I’m taking it.”
No more than fifteen minutes had passed since he hung up, yet his tail had continued to thrash about nonstop. The question of his sanity crossed Leon’s mind as he lay there in bed. The delusional hope that breaking the news to his parents would go anything better than a disaster surely spoke to his insanity. The disappointment in his mother’s voice had even spun a thread of doubt in the cougar’s mind.
“Damnit!” He cursed, a guttural growl resonating from his maw as he sat up. The call kept creeping back to the front of his mind, replaying over and over. Having had enough, he threw on a pair of shoes and grabbed his bag. The gym would give him an opportunity to blow off some of the stress.
It was only a short walk to the gym, a route he had walked often given its proximity to the basketball court. The smell of sweat and sound of clanking metal greeted him as he pushed his way through the door to the gym, he could even feel the temperature increase as he stepped further into the room.
His stride stuttered as he spotted a familiar unwelcome face in the room. Off at the far end of the gym was Charles working out on one of the bench press machines. Leon thought about leaving, but his hesitation cost him as the roo racked the barbell with the help of two juniors acting as spotters. Not even a second after Charles had hoisted himself up to sit did he spot the cougar, a vicious grin spreading across the roo’s muzzle in an instant.
Reflecting back was a frown. Charles had graduated last year, a departure most of the team had not so quietly celebrated. However, like Leon, he had been invited to train here as alumni before the FBA Draft. He had not expected to run into him so soon though.
No realistic avenue of escape existed, so he carried forth towards the treadmills offering up a small prayer to just be left alone. Though he knew it would go unanswered.
He had barely started running before his view was filled by a brown furred mass in a gym shirt. The treadmill creaked under the weight of Charles’ arm leaning onto the control panel. The kangaroo still towered over Leon, even while leaning the running cougar had to look up at the roo. His height alone projected an intimidating figure, it didn’t help the roo outweighed him by at least one hundred pounds.
“Well look who we have here,” Charles spoke, his teeth shining through his smirk lips. “Looks like shorty got a little taller since the last time I saw him,” Charles teased, “And you’ve become even more of a twig.”
If Charles had expected a response, he was disappointed when Leon only offered a small grunt to acknowledge him. The smirk faded from Charles maw as he looked down upon the cougar. It quickly returned, this time with a malicious twinge on the edge.
“Ya know you should really try to bulk up, just because I’m hafta hold back on ya doesn’t mean the pros will. I’d hate to see ya snapped in half on the court. Well...that’s if you ever even get off the bench.” He chuckled.
Leon had to hold back a scoff at the mock worry, but nonetheless spared the roo a brief glance before adopting a smirk of his own. “Don’t worry, I’ll leave polishing the bench to you.”
Leon might have missed how Charles' eye’s narrowed, but could not help notice the roo’s large paw ball into a fist. “Think you’re hot shit just cause your skipping college?”
“No, I’m hot shit cause I’m the better player,” Leon shrugged dismissively, “Did you know I destroyed your single-season scoring record? Didn’t even last a year.” Leon chided, before pushing on. “You know there are rumors. Only reason you declared for the draft was cause you failed so many classes you would have been ineligible to play next season.”
Charles growled and straightened to his full height, Leon’s eyes only meeting the roo’s collarbone now. “So, one of the pests grew a backbone since I left.”
A year ago Leon might have been a little scared, Charles had commanded respect on the team or else. But things had changed since he left, and Leon was not in the mood.
As the treadmill slowed to a stop he glared right into Charles’ eyes, “Yea, you’re bigger than me, congrats. But that’s all you got, and hate to disappoint ya, but there are even taller furs in the FBA. So what do you got left? Cause you sure as hell don’t have the IQ for the game.” Leon ended tapping his own head to accentuate his point. He watched as Charles snarled, if he had to bet there was a good chance Charles might have actually taken a swing at him if he was not in a crowded room.
Deafening silence broke Charles death glare, the typical background noise of metal clanking and activity had diminished to an odd silence. A quick side glance confirmed it, the entire gym had ground to a halt and were laser-focused on the two.
“What are you fucking looking at!?” Charles snarled, knocking the dumbstruck furs out of their daze. He turned back to Leon, smug grin and all on the cougar's face said it all. Leon had won this little fight.
Snarl still present, Charles poked Leon in the chest and spoke in a low tone, “Stay the hell outta my way, only warning.”
The whole gym watched out of the corner of their vision as the roo spun and stomped his way to collect his bag before leaving, and emphatic slam of the door signaling his exit. Leon could only sigh and turn back on the treadmill losing himself in the rhythm of his run as chatter returned to the room once more.
He felt lighter as a result of the back and forth barbs with Charles. Finally, he had been able to push the call back to the recesses of his mind. As much as it had pained him to go back on his promise, he would not let his parents' disappointment in him sway him.
This was as much for them as it was for him.