4. THE SUBSTITUTE
There was silence at first when the coach asked his boys what he had to ask. They were gathered at his house to commiserate over pizza while hiding from the satellite trucks. Wes had been gone less than 48 hours, long enough to draw attention from media around the world, and now the boys had to decide whether or not they would play on without him.
No, Xavier finally said.
No: Wes was their season. It lived and died with him. They coexisted in perfection. They should be buried together, undisturbed, in a field west of town, by a wall of maples, under a heart-shaped headstone.
No? Let's ask his parents, someone said.
Gary and Jocelyn were mourning in their house with the television off when Coach Klingler came to call.
Yes, Jocelyn said, without hesitation.
Yes: Wes would have wanted them to play. No matter the sport, he always wanted one more game. If he could play football with a busted shoulder and basketball with a double-sized heart, his fellow Blackhawks could play through a few tears.
Xavier and some other players slept at the Leonards' house for the next week or so, up the dogleg hallway from the carpeted garage gym with the indoor hoop where he and Wes used to play in their socks. They spent time with Wes's 13-year-old brother, Mitchell, who played on the Fennville junior high basketball team. Xavier slept all he could, just to turn his mind off, because he knew his days as sixth man were over. It was a simple matter of subtraction. On Monday the boy who wanted to bury the season would replace his best friend in the starting lineup.
If Maria could wait three bone-aching hours in line for tickets at the Hope College field house, afraid of being trampled, begging people not to jostle her, conspiring with her younger son to hustle for a good seat, as if it were the Oklahoma land rush—