“You’re gonna love it, mom, I’m sure of it.”

“I’m glad you’re sure, Mark. I’m having my doubts right now.” Martha had a death grip on Mark’s arm, her head on a swivel as she looked around at the throng of people.

“It’s what dad would want, mom. It’s the right thing to do.”

“I know, son, I know. And thank you for inviting me, instead of one of your friends.”

“Of course, mom.” Mark gave his mother’s white-knuckled hand a pat. “Dad loved his Portland Trail Blazers, and we made great use of these season tickets.”

The crowds seemed just as large, and just as noisy, inside the Rose Quarter as they had outside. The excitement in the air was a tangible thing, stirring the blood and raising expectations. Tonight the Blazers were playing against the Philadelphia 76ers. A win for the Blazers and a loss by the Los Angeles Clippers would move Portland up to the number four spot in the playoff race. The 76ers needed a win to hold onto their #5 spot in the playoffs unless the Pacers lost, also.

It felt even more exciting once they took their seats in the Fuchsia Corner, high enough to get a good birds-eye view of the entire court but a lot closer than the nose-bleed seats high above them.

“Don’t worry, mom. Blazers fans are the best in the NBA.”

Martha felt pretty sure every team’s fans felt that way.

“We almost never boo the other team,” Mark explained. “We even cheer when they make a spectacular play. Sometimes.”

“Why are those seats empty?” Martha pointed to the two seats immediately to her left.

“Who knows?” Mark told her. “They are season ticket seats, but maybe the ticket holders couldn’t make it.”

“Or maybe they weren’t even sold?” Martha added her conjecture. Mark laughed.

“Are you kidding, mom? The season tickets sell out every year. They have since . . . I don’t know, since a long time before dad bought these.”

The stadium was almost full, but there were still people coming in. All of a sudden the lights went out.

“Ohhh,” Martha grabbed Mark’s arm. His smile lit up, reflected from one of the circling spotlights now highlighting one part of the stadium, then moving on to another. The spotlights added another layer of excitement.

“Here are your Portland Trail Blazers,” came blaring over the speakers. The team came trotting out to the floor, the starters introduced by name and alma mater. Once both teams were introduced the lights came back on for the National Anthem. When Martha stood, she sensed someone to her left, but she kept her attention focused on the flag. When the anthem finished she looked left as she sat back down. And there he was.

“Greg? Is that really you?” Greg Stanton. Her high school sweetheart. And some pretty young thing about Mark’s age in the seat next to him.

“Martha?” Greg grinned like the Cheshire Cat, but he didn’t disappear. “Martha Granger, as I live and breathe. Give me a hug.” Greg stood and opened his arms.

“Actually, it’s Martha Hempsted now.” She put her arms lightly around Greg’s wide shoulders as she leaned into his arms. “I guess,” she muttered.

After their hug, Greg put his arms on her shoulders and straightened them, holding her at arm’s length and frowning. “You guess?”

Something happened, the crowd erupted in a cheer and the couple sitting behind Martha asked her and Greg to sit down. Greg turned to them and apologized.

“Come on, Martha,” Greg suggested. “Let’s go up to the concourse and catch up. It’s been what, thirty years since we’ve seen each other? I didn’t even see you at the reunion last year.”

Martha let Greg lead her back to the aisle, up to the concourse, a wide ring where vendors sold food, drinks, and memorabilia. They found an empty bench and sat. Martha started the conversation.

“George was in the hospital last year. He didn’t make it. I still waver between thinking of myself as Martha Hempsted or Martha Granger.”

“I’m so sorry, Martha.” Greg gave her another hug.

“What about you?” she asked, wiping a finger under one eye. “And was that young lady in the seat next to you a stranger, or was she with you?”

“She’s with me.”


“That’s my daughter, Martha.” He chuckled. “I mean that’s Martha, my daughter.”

“Oh. Just the two of you? Your wife isn’t with you? I guess I can understand that. I never came to these things with George, either.”

Greg’s shoulders slumped. “Like your George, my Catherine’s gone, too. We lost her to cancer three years ago.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Greg took Martha’s hands in his and gave them a gentle squeeze.

“Don’t be. She didn’t suffer too much. It was quick.”

A loud cheer reverberated out through the access tunnels to the concourse.

“Sounds like we’re missing something. Maybe we should get back in there. We’re missing the game.” Martha prepared to stand, but Greg continued to sit, holding her hands.

“I only came because a friend of ours couldn’t make it, and offered us his seats for this game. And I’m extremely glad we took him up on that.” Greg’s face it up for a moment. Then he stood, looking pensive. “But if you want to go back in ...?”

“Our seats were George’s. He and Mark came all the time. And we haven’t even begun to catch up.”

“He and Mark? Was that Mark sitting with you?”

“That’s him, our son.” Martha stood then, facing Greg. He gave her another big smile.

“Well, let’s do some of that catching up, then. Over some nachos and a soda, maybe?”

Martha laughed. “I’d love that.” She was a little surprised, definitely pleased, that he remembered after all these years. They had hot nachos and cold Dr. Pepper on their first date. She wondered if this was their second first date.

“Oh my. They certainly charge a lot for nachos these days. And soda.”

“They do.” Greg agreed. “We can share if you’d like.”

“I’d like that. Very much.” Martha started looking in her purse for her wallet.

“Here, let me.” Greg paid for their large order of nachos and one large Dr. Pepper. He handed Martha the nachos, while he added two straws to the soda. They walked back to their bench.

She told him all about Mark, in between bites of nachos. He told her all about Martha while sharing the nachos. They both went for the straws, bumping foreheads lightly, then took sips of soda while touching heads. No talk about cancer, or spouses. And nothing about the elephant in the room. Until Martha brought it up.

“So what happened to us, Greg? Why did you break up with me?”

Greg nearly choked on the last nacho. “You broke up with me, Martha. It broke my heart when you said goodbye.”

Suddenly there were people everywhere. Mark ran up to his mom, trying to tell her what she’d missed. Martha ran up to Greg, trying to tell him all about the game at the same time.

“You’re missing a killer game, mom.”

“You won’t believe this, dad. We’re tied.”

“Is the game over?” Martha asked.

“No, it’s half time. Where have you been?” Mark looked at Greg. “Who’s this?”

“Who is this?” Greg's daughter Martha added. Then she spied the empty nachos holder between them. And the single soda cup, with two straws.

“Never mind, dad. You can tell me later. I’m starving. I need to get something to eat before the second half starts.” She headed for the hot dog stand.

“Me, too,” Mark echoed, following Martha towards the crowded vendors. Mark’s long strides took him to the line just before Martha got there. He turned to greet her with a smile.

“Hello. I’m Mark.” He offered his hand. She took it in hers.

“Hi, Mark. I’m Martha.”

“Martha. That’s my mom’s name. That was her, sitting on that bench with the guy you came in with.”

“That guy is my dad, Greg.”

“I used to come to the games with my dad. Here, you go in front of me.” Mark offered to trade places in line.

“Thanks, Mark.” Martha stepped in front of him. “I’ve wanted to come to one of these for a long time. Finally, one of dad’s friends couldn’t make it, and offered us his season tickets tonight.”

They talked about basketball until they got to the front of the line. Martha looked at the prices. Then she looked at Mark.

“I hate to ask this, but can you loan me ten bucks? Just until we get back to my dad? I didn’t realize how expensive snacks would be here.”

“No problem. I’ve got this. We could share a soda if you like? I can buy your hot dog. Then you wouldn’t need a loan.”

“Sharing it is, then.”

Just as Mark finished putting relish on his hot dog they heard the announcer telling fans the second half was about to start.

“We’d better get back to our seats.”

Martha looked over at the bench. Their parents were just looking at each other, seemingly unaware of anything around them.

“Let’s go,” she agreed. While they headed back to the seats in the stadium, their parents continued to sit on the concourse and talk.

“But you said you were going to Philadelphia.” Martha looked at Greg. “I thought that meant we were done.”

“The University of Pennsylvania has one of the top management schools. And I knew you were planning on going to Oregon State. I didn’t think you’d come across the country with me.”

Martha shook her head and smiled. “You were right. My parents wouldn’t have approved. And I didn’t really want to leave Oregon. But I wish you would have asked.”

“I knew you wanted to stay in Oregon. I didn’t want to ask you to leave your home. And five different friends of mine tried long-distance relationships. None of them worked out.” He took Martha’s hands in his again.

“I was young. And stupid. Can you ever forgive me?”

“Not stupid. Foolish. There’s nothing to forgive.”

There was another loud cheer from the fans. Greg gave Martha a long, warm look. Then he stood.

“Should we join our kids and enjoy the rest of the game?”

Martha stood, as well, still holding Greg’s hand. “I’m looking forward to enjoying the game.” She smiled. “And even more basketball.”

Greg withdrew his hand from hers, to put his arm around her. “I feel like we’re all tied up, and ready for a rematch.”

August 13, 2020 20:28

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