Molly Parker wasn't here for some stupid autograph.
She wasn't even here for the open practice the Celtics had run today, their last practice before they would begin the regular season tomorrow night against the 76ers. Though she had to admit that it was pretty cool to sit with the other kids and their parents inside the Celtics' practice gym at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, which didn't so much sound like the name of a basketball court but the answer to some kind of essay question.
The Celtics had scheduled their annual Kids Day practice at four o'clock so that the parents - moms mostly, Molly noticed that right -off--could pick up their kids at school or at the bus and get them here on time. Molly, who'd gotten out here to Waltham early, had watched a lot of them pull up to the entrance to the big public parking lot on the side, feeling as if she were watching some kind of parade for SUVs.
Yuppie limos, her mom liked to call them.
Of course, then her mom would wonder if anybody in America even used the word yuppie anymore, or if there was some kind of new description for all the moms driving Suburbans and Land Cruisers and Explorers.
"Pretty soon there'll be double-decker versions of these monsters," Jennifer Parker would say to Molly. "Like our red London buses."
When they had finally come back for good from London, the only place Molly had ever thought of as home, her mom had acted as if everything was new to her, as if the country she'd grown up in had now become foreign, just because she'd been away for over twelve years.
One day when they were driving on the Mass Pike, Jennifer Parker-Jen to her friends-had found herself in the middle lane, with big SUVs on both sides of their rented Taurus.
"Okay," her mom said, "that's it. I know -we've only been back a few weeks, but they're going to need to build a bigger country."
"Mom," Molly said that day, "you're going to have to let go on the whole car thing."
Her mom grinned then, because she was the coolest and always got the joke.
"Did I ever by any chance mention the Volkswagen bug I used to drive around in college?"
And Molly had said, "Oh, no, Mom. Never. Not one single time. No kidding-you used to have a Volkswagen bug in college? It wasn't fire-engine red by any chance, was it?"
Then they'd both laughed. Because they both always got the joke, even if it was one as old as the one about her old college car.
In the players' parking lot now, behind the Sports Authority building, leaning against the wheel of his SUV, Molly closed her eyes, picturing her and her mother in the front seat of the rented car that day, waiting to see how that particular snapshot, from the album she carried around her head, was going to affect her.
Progress, Molly thought.
Or maybe progress had not one stinking thing to do with it, maybe she was just too wired -a Mom word-to focus on anything except what was going to happen next.
Practice had been over for twenty minutes or so. The players had scattered to different points on the court to sign autographs. All the players except the one the kids in the house really wanted: Josh Cameron.
Not just the biggest star on the Celtics, but the biggest star in the NBA, and maybe any sport right now.
One of the young guys who worked for the Celtics had gotten on the microphone and said that because they knew it would be a mob scene if Josh tried to sign something for every boy and girl in the gym, he-Josh-had a surprise for them all. In the lobby waiting for them on the way out, the guy from the Celtics said, everyone in attendance today would be handed a special Josh Cameron goody bag. Inside was an autographed youth basketball, Celtics cap, and a T-shirt from Josh's summer basketball camp in Maine.
Then Josh Cameron himself, looking a little bigger to Molly than he did on television, maybe because he wasn't standing next to some seven-foot monster type, took the microphone and personally thanked everybody for coming, said he hoped they'd had a great time, and promised them a great Celtics season.
"Always remember," he said, "we can't do it without your support. And I mean you guys."
"You're my hero, Josh!" a girl yelled from somewhere in the stands.
He smiled and wagged a finger in her direction, like she'd somehow shouted out the wrong answer.
"No," he said. "You guys are my heroes."
He told them to enjoy their goody bags, told them to study real hard when they weren't rooting their hardest for the Celtics, then left the practice gym.
That was Molly's cue to beat it out of there, sneaking through a side door she'd scoped out as the other kids were making their way down to the court. She didn't even bother to go to the lobby and pick up the bag with all the cute stuff inside.
Instead she went straight for where she'd seen Josh Cameron's black Lincoln Navigator parked. Molly didn't know anything about cars, not really. But she knew what Josh was driving because he'd won it for being MVP of the NBA Finals five months ago.
Molly knew about the black Lincoln Navigator the way she knew everything there was to know about him by now. Sometimes her buddy Sam would quiz her, out of the blue, no matter what they were doing.
"What kind of watch does he wear?"
"Too easy," she'd say. "Omega. They use him now instead of the guy who used to play James Bond."
"Red Zone from Old Spice. C'mon, these aren't even challenging."
"Okay, how about this? What's the name of his new Labrador puppy, the one he just got last week?"
"He got a new puppy last week?"
Sam made a sound like a buzzer going off on one of the game shows he made Molly watch sometimes on the Game Show Network.
"Nah," Sam said. "I made it up. But I had you going for a minute. You thought I knew something about him that you didn't."
"But you didn't. Know something I didn't, I mean."
"But I did. Have you going. Which is enough to make my day, frankly."
"You're crazy," Molly-said.
"What does that say about you?" Sam said. "You could have picked anybody to be your friend and picked me."
"Good point," she said.
If Molly didn't know everything important there was to know about Josh Cameron, she was sure she knew more than anybody else. Her mom had called it the joy of Google.
"I'm not big on technology," her mom would say, and then Molly would slap her forehead and say, "You have got to be kidding, Mom! I never heard that one before, either."
"But," her mom would say, ignoring her, "I do feel that life got a lot better when Google became a verb."
By now Molly Parker had Googled Josh Cameron so many times that she knew his first two Google pages, starting with his own Web site, by heart.
Basically, he was the most famous and best Boston Celtics basketball player since Larry Bird. And the best and flashiest point guard they'd had since Bob Cousy. But most people, Molly had found out in her research, seemed to think Josh Cameron was the basketball equivalent of Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback who won all the Super Bowls and looked like he should be playing Hilary Duff's boyfriend in the movies, even if he was waaaaay too old for her.
Basically, Josh Cameron, six feet two, out of the University of Connecticut, winner of four NBA titles in his first nine years in the league, was the biggest and most popular star in sports right now. American sports, anyway. Molly didn't even try to explain to Sam or any of the other kids she went to school with about the whole David Beckham thing.
He was thirty-one now, about the same age as her mom. It wasn't Crypt-keeper old, but he was getting up there, even if you couldn't tell it by the way he was playing. The Celtics had just won again, and he had won another MVP award.
"He's one of those guys," Jen Parker told her daughter. "He'll get old about the same time Peter Pan does."
Now, after the T rides she had taken to get to the buses and then the walk from the last bus station, which seemed like a lot more than the mile the bus driver had said, she was finally going to meet him.
She had decided it was time.
She knew it would make everybody mad that she had skipped out of school early again with a made-up story, at least when they figured out she hadn't gone to Sam's house after school like she'd said. Molly didn't care. She knew they'd try to act all worried about her when she got home, but it would just mean that she'd inconvenienced everybody.
Molly the Inconvenience.
She took out her cell phone as a way of reminding herself to turn it off when she saw him coming. She knew that any kid her age with her own cell phone was supposed to consider that a huge deal. Not Molly. The Nokia she carried in the front pocket of her jeans always seemed to her like the business end of some long leash, one that stretched all the way to the Sports Authority Training Center from the old brownstone in the part of Boston known as Beacon Hill.
She tried to look through the smoked windows of the Navigator, wanting to see if it was true that he really had a portable fax machine in there. Molly knew about that the way she knew that Cherry Garcia ice cream was his favorite and that he had every single Rolling Stones song ever on his iPod and that.
She didn't just know.
She really knew.
It was why Sam was always making fun of her, even though he always had a sense when to back off, because in the end this was what they both knew:
This wasn't funny.
She decided to check the phone for messages real fast, just to see if they'd called Sam's house yet looking for her. Checking up on her.
One text message.
Pretty much her only real friend.
Molly was no big fan of text messaging. It made her feel as if she was five years old all over again and trying to spell out words by picking them out of her alphabet soup.
But she knew that if she didn't answer Sam, he'd just keep messaging her until she did.
Molly saw Josh Cameron now.
Saw him come out the door you could barely tell was a door. It was like a piece of the brick wall that just opened by magic, underneath one of the giant glass windows.
Molly's head poked just over the hood of the car.
He was alone, the way she'd hoped he would be, wearing jeans with holes in the knees and untied high-top sneaks and carrying a green Celtics bag. And he was wearing the leather jacket she somehow knew he'd be wearing, his favorite single item of clothing going all the way back to the University of Connecticut. And the wraparound sunglasses she knew were Oakleys, because they were the exact same glasses he wore in a new television commercial.
Molly had read a story about him in which one of his teammates, Nick Tutts, had said that his buddy Josh Cameron went through life as he if he owned the place. The writer had asked, "What place?" And Nick Tutts said,"Anyplace."
That was how Josh looked to Molly now as he moved across the parking lot, fifty yards away, then twenty, pointing with his car keys now and unlocking the doors to the Navigator. Not just unlocking it, but turning the engine on at the same time!
She found herself thinking how awesome Sam would think that was, Sam being a gadget guy.
That was for later. For now, she took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the car.
"Hey," she said.
He smiled. But it was one of those smiles like he was smiling right through her or past her.
Shaking his head at the same time.
"Sorry," he said. "No autographs. It wouldn't be fair to the others."
Molly said, "Don't want one."
Josh said, "You know, you really shouldn't be in the parking lot. Everybody was sort of supposed to stay in the gym when practice was over."
"I snuck out early," Molly said. "I needed to talk to you."
Be cool, fool, Sam had said. Don't get ahead of yourself.
Josh Cameron looked back over his shoulder, toward the gate, as if maybe the guard could help him out here.
"Listen, honey, I don't mean to blow you off."
"Molly," she said. "My name's Molly."
"Molly," he said. "Nice to meet you, Molly. But, listen, I'm running kind of late. We've got our Welcome Home dinner later, in town, and -I've got to get ready for it."
"At the Westin," Molly said.
"Right. So I need to get back and change and do a few things."
He took the Oakleys off now, as if giving her a closer look. "Do I know you?"
Molly was the one shaking her head now. "No reason why you should." Then, "Nice jacket."
"This old thing? We go way back, the two of us."
"To UConn. I know."
"Yeah, the sportswriters seem to get a kick out of it, maybe because they always think this is the year when it's finally going to fall apart." He shrugged. "No kidding, I don't want to be rude, but I gotta bounce."
He opened the door on the driver's side, like this was the official beginning of him saying good-bye to her and driving away.
Blowing her off.
He tossed the Celtics bag on the passenger seat in the front, then said, "Hey!" Like he'd come up with a bright idea. "Hey, I've got something for you, after all." Winking at her. "Even though I said no autographs."
He opened up the back door then, pulled out a regulation size basketball, grabbed a Sharpie out of one of the pockets of the leather jacket. "To Molly-is that okay?"-not even waiting for an answer as he started writing.
When he was done, he handed her the ball. She looked at what he'd written. "To Molly, a great fan and a new friend. Josh Cameron, No. 3."
Molly turned the ball over in her hands.
Then she handed it back.
It actually got a laugh out of him. "Now, wait a second. Nobody ever passes up Josh Cameron stuff." He put his hands to his cheeks, trying to make himself look sad. "I must be losing it."
Get to it, she told herself, you're losing him.
"I didn't come here for stuff," she said.
"Why did you then?"
"I needed to talk to you about something important."
He looked at his Omega James Bond watch.
"You know what's important to me right now? Making sure I show up for that Welcome Home dinner on time. So how about you have your teacher or your parents call the PR department and, who knows, maybe I could come speak at your school sometime."
Then he slid in behind the wheel and reached for the door and said, "Nice meeting you, Molly."
"She bought that jacket for you."
He turned off the ignition now and said, "Excuse me?"
"She said she had left you crying in your dorm room when you got back that night from not making the Final Four, saying it was all your fault and you had let everybody down. And the next day she went and spent all the money she had in her checking account on that jacket and told you the next year you could wear it to the Final Four. And you did."
She said it word for word exactly right, the way she had all the times when she'd rehearsed it with Sam, Sam playing the part of Josh Cameron.
He got out of the car and closed the door and got down in a crouch, so they were eye to eye. "You're Jen's kid, aren't you?"
"Yes," she said.
"I've always told people that this old jacket is my good luck charm," he said. "But I never told why. We promised we'd never tell anybody."
"Don't be mad," Molly said. "She only told me."
"I'm not mad."
"She told me she never broke promises. Even when she promised you she wasn't ever coming back."
Molly was wearing a red cap Sam had given her, a Red Sox cap with "Believe" on the front, from the year they won the World Series. Josh tipped it back slightly, to give himself a better look at her. "No wonder I thought I might know you," he said. Then he nodded and said, "So she finally did come back."
Molly tried to swallow but couldn't. "She came back."
"Well, tell your mom she didn't have to send you if she wanted to let me know she was back. She could've come herself." Molly said, "No."
"Same old stubborn Jen. And she used to say I was the one who'd never change."
"My mom died," Molly said. "Right before school started."
She watched as Josh Cameron started to fall backward, before he caught himself at the last second. "No," he said. "Oh, God, no."
Then he said, "How?"
"It was cancer," Molly said. "They found out about it too late, that's what the doctors back in London told her. Then she came home, and the doctors here told her the exact same thing."
He took her hands. "I am so sorry, kid. Thank you for coming out here to tell me, or I never would've known. I mean, I didn't even know she got married over there."
Molly said, "She didn't, actually."
"Oh," he said. He ran a hand through his hair, like he was stumped, and finally said, "Well, okay then."
"It's cool," she said.
"Well, at least I understand why you didn't want some silly old signed ball. What you had to tell me was important."
"That wasn't it," Molly said. "At least not all of it."
"I don't understand."
Molly couldn't help it, she found herself smiling now, hearing her mom's voice inside her head like she was right there with them.
Which maybe she was.
The idea that she was being one of the things that kept Molly going.
"Mom said there was a lot you didn't understand."
"Yeah," he said. "She did."
He looked past Molly, like he was looking to some faraway place in the distance, and said, "She used to say that a lot, as a matter of fact."
"See, I wasn't supposed to come she kept saying it was a truly bad idea." The words were spilling out of her now. "And if you know my mom-what am I saying? You did know her you know what it was like when she said something was truly good or truly bad."
"Molly," he said, "what was this truly bad idea?"
"Me telling you that you're my dad."