Baby, It’s Cold Outside
by Jeff Baker
Steph Bailey slammed the car door shut and looked around the parking lot, watching his breath curl in the lights from the basketball court. He glanced up at the sky. It was dark enough to see the stars. No clouds. No snow. He shivered in his sweatpants and hoodie; he didn’t believe they were doing this again.
“Cold enough for ya?” came the voice, shouted from the dark.
“Hey, what’re you doin’ over there?” Steph yelled. “Lookin’ for the basketball?”
“Nah, got it right here!”
Steph heard the sound of ball bouncing on concrete as Oscar walked into the light grinning like an idiot. He was wearing purplish sweats and a stocking cap that looked like a beanie. He was still tall but his jet-black hair had streaks of grey.
“You parked way over there?” Steph asked.
“Naah! I walked. I live on the other side of the park now,” Oscar said. “Think fast.”
Oscar tossed Steph the ball. Steph reached out for it and missed. He chased the ball down and walked back dribbling the ball, heading for the lit basketball court.
“How cold is it right now, anyway?” Oscar asked, blocking Steph’s way to the basket.
“About twenty-six,” Steph said with a grunt as he shot the ball toward the basket, a shot which met the tip of Oscar’s outstretched hand.
“Coldest night of the year,” Oscar said. “That was the deal, right?”
“Or close to it,” Steph said as he grabbed for the ball. The two men played on for a while longer before Oscar waved a hand and said it was time for a break. They sat down next to Steph’s gym bag, as he pulled out two bottles of water.
“Our deal,” Oscar breathed sipping from his bottle of water. “Wow! All those years ago.”
“1994,” Steph said. “I was what, fourteen and you were…”
“About a year younger.” Oscar said. “My Mom had just cut out. Back when we lived next door to each other.”
Steph grinned. “It was about one in the morning, the week after New Year’s. I looked out my window and saw you sneaking out of your house…”
“With my overnight bag and a basketball. I was saying the hell with it but I was taking the essentials.” Oscar said.
“I threw on my sweats and my shoes and went out the window after you,” Steph said.
“I about freaked when I heard you. I thought you were my Dad,” Oscar said. “I didn’t know where I was going.”
“Hey, why’d we go down to the basketball court that night?” Steph asked.
“Why not?” Oscar said with a grin. “Anyway, they had lights and I wanted to look at my address book.”
“Didn’t have cellphones yet!” Steph laughed.
“And we shot hoops and talked,” Oscar said. “On the coldest night of the year.” He stared up at the stars again. “And I decided to stay in town.”
“And that’s when we made our deal,” Steph said. “Meet here once a year on the coldest night of the year and shoot hoops.”
“Your Mom ever find out?” Oscar asked.
“Don’t think so,” Steph said. “She probably got curious about why I started paying special attention to the weather reports in early January.”
“Easier with the internet.”
“And texting,” Steph said. He sat a moment and rolled the basketball along the ground. “You know, I think my Mom would have gone for your Dad.”
“Maybe,” Oscar said. “Might have been nice.” The two of them sat and listened to the cars on the nearby freeway.
“Okay,” Steph said, standing up and grabbing the ball. “You up for more?”
“Too damn cold and too damn old,” Oscar said laughing.”
“Give me a lift? I’m living in Mickey Mayak’s old house.” Oscar said.
“Yeah?” Steph said. “You have to sneak out?”
“Nope.” Oscar said. “My kids even wanted to put this on video and post it.”
The two men laughed as they walked to the car. 1994 seemed so very far away.