Double T carried the ball to Mrs. O'Reilly. Sanford Parker was piling up the packages that Double T had dropped, and Mrs. O'Reilly tried to reassure the basketball player with a kind smile. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't know you knew Dickie Parr."
Double T nodded, new tears glistening in his eyes, and he handed her the ball. "He left this," he said. "Make sure his momma and daddy gets it." She took the ball and assured him that they would. "When did the little dude die?" Double T asked, letting his hand leave the ball. "This morning?"
"Oh no, Mr. Townsend," Mrs. O'Reilly said. "It's been some time now. Let's see...."
"What you say?" snapped Double T.
She checked a ledger, flipping the pages quickly. "Let's see," she said. "Here. Dickie died a week ago Friday. The 16th. I remember, it was early in the morn—"
"The when?" Double T barked at her.
"The 16th, Mr. Townsend. December 16. He hoped so much to make another Christmas, but...." She shrugged.
Without a word. Double T reached over and took the ball from her arms. He turned it over quickly. There was his autograph. He spun it a little further. It was there: "December 23," in Dickie's hand. And now he saw something else too, also in Dickie's handwriting. It said: "Merry Christmas, Fort Zachary."
Double T kept staring at the ball. Mrs. O'Reilly began to talk. She said, "You see, Mr. Townsend, I didn't realize that you knew Dickie. When they were sure he wasn't going to live, when they knew he wasn't going to make Christmas, they called the Rapids to see if you could come and see him, but someone said you were unavailable. So, I just didn't know...."
Double T nodded. Then he took the ball and he began to dribble it madly. He pushed open the door and dribbled through it, and around the corner and to the door to the visitors' room. He opened that door, too, all the while dribbling the ball with his right hand. There was not another sound. The TV set was off. Dickie sat in his wheelchair in the middle of the room. His face lit up when he saw Double T. The big man stopped his dribble and caught the ball. "Merry Christmas, little Dickie dude," he said, and he stepped toward him. But in that moment. Dickie was gone for good.