Trigger warning: alcohol addiction
The leather of the basketball made a satisfying swish as it sailed perfectly through the hoop, making no contact with the metal rim. Marcus whipped both hands towards Coach Martin, ready to take the next free throw.
“How many is that, Coach?”
“Number 100. That was your last shot.”
Finally! Hitting 100 free throws before leaving the gym always hit Marcus harder than anyone else. The center of his semi-professional team, he never had to shoot from more than two or three feet from the basket. Free throws were always the toughest part of the game for the seven-foot giant.
“Good work, Marcus. Go ahead and hit the showers.”
Marcus straightened his back and wiped at a bead of sweat making its way towards his eye. He trudged towards the locker room where his teammates had already begun showering. He’d have to wait for an open stall. One of these days, he thought, I’ll get better so that I won’t be the last one in the shower. Nah, probably not.
A stall opened when Bobby, the team's diminutive starting point guard, finished rinsing off. Marcus ducked as he stepped in, tilting the shower head so it wasn’t aimed at his legs. He pulled the towel off, tossed it over the curtain rod, and let the hot water run over his tired muscles. He stood under the hot stream until hot became lukewarm and began its descent towards ice cold. He twisted the knob until the stream sputtered to a stop and got dressed.
No one had stayed behind to get in some late night shots; the entire team cleared out after showering. The janitor was the only other person left in the building - and he was only there to let Marcus out before locking up.
“Hurry home, Marcus. That wife of yours probably had a long day with that baby. Go take care of them.”
“I will,” he lied. “I’m heading home now.”
“Be safe out there now.”
His home was just four blocks away. He walked back and forth to the gym daily except when the team had away games. The prospect of getting home to Andrea – and the argument that would no doubt accompany his arrival – instead led Marcus back down the familiar path towards The Crowbar.
Just one drink couldn’t hurt. She wouldn't find out if he had just one.
Once inside the smoky dive bar, he made a beeline for his usual stool. Willy hired a new bartender; Marcus didn’t recognize the guy drying glasses behind the bar. His nametag identified him as Alex, but Marcus referred to him by the same name he used for all the other bartenders.
“Shot of Patron with a little bit of lime, Bossman.”
“You got it. Do you want to pay now or start a tab?”
Yeah, he was definitely new; the other guys never had to ask, they just opened the tab and took Marcus's Mastercard. Still, the question forced him to consider: should he start a tab if he was just having one drink? It'd be better if he didn't. "I'll go ahead and pay for this one now."
Dropping onto his stool, he looked up to see the nearest television played the 2nd half of the Hawks’ early game against the Rockets. He couldn’t have cared less for either team – his team, the Bulls, were off that night – but he watched the game intently to see how well Trey Young was playing that night. His college roommate fared much better than him in his professional career, but Marcus cheered for his success far more than he bemoaned his lack thereof.
Halfway through the 3rd quarter, as he ordered his third shot, Marcus slid his Mastercard across the bar and instructed Alex to open a tab. There was no reason to keep paying for single shots, this game was intense and he'd be here a while.
As the 3rd quarter drew to an end, Marcus ordered his fifth.
Halfway through the 4th quarter, he was screaming at the referees while pounding his ninth.
By the end of the 4th, Alex cut him off – though Marcus didn’t hear him over the sound of his protests to referees who couldn’t hear him.
“Alex, my man…. another Patron, keep ‘em coming! The party ain’t over until – ”
Alex jabbed a finger at the empty glass in front of Marcus. “That was your last shot.” He set the receipt for Marcus’s tab in front of him.
“Cut off?” Marcus raised his voice, nearly shouting at the bartender. “Don’t you know wh – who I am?”
“You’re the guy who’s about to earn himself a one way ticket to the drunk tank if you don’t leave. Now.”
“Oh, Willy’s gon’ hear ‘bout this. You can… can bet your a- ass.” Marcus snatched the receipt, crumpled it into a ball, and threw it behind the counter. He stumbled outside. It was dark already; he hadn’t realized how late it had gotten.
Despite his level of intoxication, he knew his way from many a night making the drunken stumble home. He could navigate these streets in his sleep. The alcohol barely affected him; why did Andrea make such a big deal about it all the time?
He glanced down at his watch. Only 9:43 PM. Perhaps she wouldn’t be so upset that he was at the bar, he wasn’t that late.
He staggered around the last corner, his townhouse coming into view. Andrea sat on the front steps with Nicole in her arms, illuminated by the glow of the streetlight. She jumped to her feet when she saw Marcus approaching but sat down after a brief moment watching the stumbling behemoth.
“I guess you and Willy had a good ol’ time - again - tonight.”
“Oh give it a rest, I just stopped for a drink. I'm not even drunk.”
“Yeah, just one drink. Like always. Just one drink... followed by a few more. And a few more. I can smell you all the way over here. You just can't help yourself.”
Damnit, she was upset. That was alright, he could talk her down. She'd been much more upset before, but he'd always managed to talk his way out of it.
“Baby, baby, baby… come on now, you... you know I need to take the edge off after practice. They got us - ”
“Don’t 'baby, baby' me. Not this time. I’m done, I'm done Marcus." Something in her voice felt different. She'd been "done" before, but every time he woke up the next morning, she was still home. Sure, she'd be in the bed while he contorted his large frame to fit on the couch, but she was still there. Why did this time seem so different?
"I’ve already packed a bag for Nicole and me tonight. I'm waiting on my Momma to come get me. I’ll be back tomorrow for her stuff.”
Even in his inebriated state, alarm bells began ringing. This was different. It felt real this time. Her voice, her mannerisms. She would usually scream at him, inviting an argument that they both looked forward to, if for no other reason than to air grievances that never fit in civilized conversations. She didn’t scream though; the apathy in her words stung far more than her usual hurled insults. Her voice was unwavering, almost calm. She spoke at her normal volume. She didn't wait around for him to argue back. His shouts hit the back of her nightgown and slid off, none sticking or impacting the way they used to.
He followed her inside, blocking the door with his massive frame. “Baby, give me a minute. H- hold on now I... I, I can explain - ”
“But Andrea, I love you.”
"And I love you Marcus. But I can't do this anymore. I just can't. I can't watch you drink yourself into an early grave. I can't raise Nicole in a household where her daddy's always drunk. I lived that, I ain't making her live it too."
"But I can... I can change. You and Nicky are my world. I'd do any... anything for you both."
“That’s exactly what you said two nights ago. I bet you don't remember, though. I'll tell you now what I told you then:
“That was your last shot.”