By Larry Copeland

© 2016 by Larry Copeland, all rights reserved.



Derek Wildstar had asked me to stop by his house, so that I could drop off a particular type of 3D chess game that we had that he had mentioned he liked and would like to try out.  After letting me in, Derek led me into his living room where a large, probably two-meter wide, screen on the wall was showing live March Madness college basketball.  In this day and age, the tournament started with 128 teams from around the world… today’s games were in the Sweet 16.  I spotted a couple of open bottles of Teichman’s Light on coasters on the coffee table in front of the sofa.

“Chaim, I’d like to you meet Paul Rosstowski, a decorated member of the Star Force,” Derek said to me as I spotted a tall, fairly well-built man, about my age, with dark hair and eyes, who was sitting on the sofa facing the big screen, taking in the game action.  At Derek’s introduction, Rosstowski turned his head toward me and stood up.”

“Paul, this is Chaim Kopelowitz,” Derek said, completing the introduction.

“Chaim, nice to meet you… Wildstar has told me good things about you… I hear you’re from the Philly area originally?”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” I said matter-of-factly.  “Yes, I grew up near West Chester.”

“Ahh – out in the ‘burbs, I see… and by the way, please call me Paul.“

I smiled, saying, “Yes… and do I remember hearing correctly, Paul, that you’re from South Philly?”

“You got it!” Paul said warmly.  “Did you come here to watch the game with us?”

I smiled again… 15 years ago, I probably would have said yes, but now was different.  “No, just to drop off our Cosmo-Chess set that Wildstar wants to borrow.”  Rosstowski nodded.  “But who’s playing?”

“It’s Taiwan State vs. Villanova,” Paul responded.

“Ok… are you rooting for either one?” I asked.

“Good question, Chaim,” said Paul.  “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pull for those guys out in the ‘burbs – no offense – as I’m a St. Joes’ guy… but seeing as how ‘Nova is the last North American team left in the tournament, I kinda feel myself hoping they’ll win.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.  “If it’s anybody from Philly, I’m rooting for them.”

“That’s funny, Paul,” Derek said.  “Of course, I’ve heard that nickname for Villanova before, but it’s probably the first time I’ve heard ‘Nova’ in this house when it didn’t refer to Mrs. Wildstar.”  We nodded our acknowledgement of the unintended pun.  “By the way, Chaim, you’re welcome to stay, of course, if you want to watch a little of the game with us.”

“Thanks, Wildstar,” I responded.  “But I gotta get back to our neighborhood for mincha.”  After a short pause, during which I saw Paul’s face express puzzlement, I said, “Sorry, that’s the afternoon prayer service.”  Paul’s confused look ebbed and he nodded lightly.

Just then, Nova Wildstar entered the house with her and Derek’s two-and-a-half-year old daughter, Ariel.  Ariel’s twin brother Alex was apparently away on a playdate.  Ariel was probably the quickest of her age I’d seen in a long time… maybe ever.  Just as her mother was calling out a greeting, “Hi Derek!  Oh, hi Paul!” the little girl precociously called out, “Daddy, are you watching that stupid basketball again?!”  She and her mother hadn’t made it more than two steps inside the front door, and somehow she knew what was going on!

Caught red-handed, Wildstar, stepped out into the foyer to greet his wife and daughter.  “Yes, Daddy is watching basketball with Uncle Paul,” he said in response to his daughter’s blunt question.  “But we were waiting for you to come home to see the pretty shoes that Mommy bought for you.”  Ariel’s facial expression turned to a smile at her father’s response.

Ahh – Daddy’s trying mightily to do damage control, I thought non-chalantly.  Mistake!

“Oh, hi Chaim!  Let me not have bad manners towards all you basketball fans… “ Nova said, having picked up my errant thought.

I rolled my eyes…  Argh – can’t get away with anything around you, eh Nova?  Another mistake!

maetelornovainblackcuteThat’s right, you can’t!  Not in my house at least, Nova thought back to me briefly putting her hands on her hips.  I could see Derek turn and frown in my direction, as if he knew what was going on.  “Although, Chaim,” Nova continued out loud, “it doesn’t seem like your style to kick up your feet with a beer and watch a game with your friends too often.  Does Sarah know what you’re up to?”

“Um – hi, Nova,” I said, a bit defensively.  “Actually, I wasn’t here to watch the game…”

A likely story, I heard in my mind in Mrs. Wildstar’s voice.  But then she smiled, confirming my suspicion that she was purely giving me a hard time.

Just then, I heard Rosstowski’s voice coming up from behind me… “How’s it going, Nova?  Honestly, Chaim wasn’t watching the game with us… can’t you count the beers?” he challenged, smiling slightly, and pointing back at the coffee table with his right thumb.

“Ahh – saved by the beer,” Nova said flatly.  The other three of us laughed at that.  Then I turned and nodded in Rosstowski’s direction, grateful for his corroborating my claim.

“Nova,” Derek said to his wife, “Chaim was just dropping off that Cosmo-Chess 2208 set that I wanted to try out.”

derekcivvies1“Oh, that’s right,” Mrs. Wildstar replied to her husband.  She then turned her head in my direction and said, “Sorry, Chaim, that I doubted you… I guess I thought those thoughts of yours were evidence of a guilty conscience!”   I could see Paul’s face contort slightly in confusion.

“No problem, Nova,” I replied.

“Thanks!” she said.  “Can I take a look at the chess set?  Derek, is that it on the coffee table?”  Derek nodded, and she stepped into the living room to examine the set.

She picked up the chess set and said, “Wow, the craftsmanship on this is beautiful.  Chaim, where did you get this?”

“It was a birthday present from a friend of mine; I’ve had it for just over a year.”

“Nice… I’ll bet it’s worth 500 credits,” she said.

“Can you introduce me to your friend, Chaim?” Paul asked.  “I’d love to get one of these for my next birthday!”  Again, we all chuckled.

“What, Paul?  Star Force pay not enough for you?” Derek teased.  Paul grimaced slightly and nodded, as if to say, “Touché, Captain!”

After a few seconds, Nova suddenly looked up from the chess set and asked, “Wait, what are you trying to tell me, Derek?”

“Huh?” Wildstar asked, puzzled by his wife’s question.

“Where to you want to go?  Oh, that’s Paul?” Nova said.

“What?  Wasn’t me,” Rosstowski replied, also not sure where Mrs. Wildstar’s question came from.

Then there was silence in the room for a few seconds… all we could hear was the sounds of the game coming from the speakers situated at the corners of the big screen.

Then Nova figured it out.  “Oh my gosh… I’m such a ditz,” she said, shaking her head, an annoyed look on her face, as she blew the bangs of her hair up from her forehead with a well-placed sigh.  “And I used to be one too!”

“What?  You used to be a ditz?” Paul said incredulously.

“You’ve still lost me, dear,” Derek said.

“No, Paul!” Nova said in an irritated tone.  “I used to be a cheerleader!  Listen to what they’re saying!”

We all turned our attention to the sound coming out of the speakers… it was simply the play-by-play announcer calling out names, the squeaking of the players’ sneakers on the hardwood court, the crowd noise, and … the cheerleaders… specifically the ones from Villanova… “Let’s go NO-VA!” Clap-clap…clap-clap-clap.  “Let’s go NO-VA!” Clap-clap…clap-clap-clap.

Paul chuckled, while Derek sighed diplomatically.  I ain’t thinkin’ nuthin, I thought staying silent.

Nova continued her self-deprecation, tipping her head back and looking at the ceiling… “Like I said, I am a…”

“Wait, Nova!” Derek called out.  “That was funny, but please don’t throw yourself under the air-bus.  We’re certainly not going to.”  Derek then looked towards Paul and me, and we nodded.

“Thank you, Derek!  Although this is still really embarrassing.” Nova replied.  “And Chaim, I appreciate your stowing any mental comment this time around!”

“Uh – my pleasure, ma’am,” I replied sheepishly.”

Just so long as this doesn’t hit the Scuttlebutt Express after we’re back on the ship again, then I think we’ll be ok,” Nova said, still sounding a wee bit defensive.  The three of us men chuckled.