Yet, four games into the season, I tore my ACL and my coping mechanism was ripped away from me within seconds. The media attention that was sudden and swift when it started, seemed to come to an abrupt stop.

Yes, the doctor had told me that I could play again with extensive rehab, that I could take six to eight months to heal and be just fine, but I asked him to write me a “should probably never play competitively again” diagnosis instead; I couldn’t bear to live the life of a college athlete for another day. I had to force myself to find new ways to cope.

Since I had no family to call anymore—only memories could bring them to life every now and again, I relied on my friends.

Just friends.

There was Josh—my closest male friend, current roommate, and fraternity culture obsessed confidante who had an excuse for almost everything. There was my former teammate Dwayne—soon to be a professional athlete and first round draft pick, who still got me tickets to every campus basketball game. And of course, there was Arizona who’d stuck by me through it all—never letting me read what the papers were saying about the “Questionable Diagnosis,” always there when everyone else had left me behind; she was my best friend—the ultimate person I could count on no matter what. And, for whatever reason, she was the only one who was standing in my kitchen when I finally made it home from the awards ceremony.

“You wanted to have a graduation party with just four people?” she asked as I came inside. “You know you could’ve easily gotten one hundred people here, and that’s just me counting your adoring female flock.”

“It just kills you that I’m sexually attractive, doesn’t it?”

“It kills me that you can actually describe yourself as “sexually attractive” without laughing at how ridiculous that sounds.”

I smiled. “Would you like me better if I was modest?”

“I’d like you better if you were honest.” She laughed, and Josh and Dwayne came inside the house at that moment—arguing about basketball stats as usual.

“You were serious about only inviting the three of us?” Dwayne asked, looking around. “No other girls but Arizona?”

“Is there a problem with that?” I asked.

“No.” Josh shrugged, setting a bag on the counter. “After going to ten parties this week that were far too crowded, I think I’d much rather hang out in a small group tonight. Well, minus Arizona. I’m with Dwayne on that one. We can always do without her being here, and since I live in this place as well, I vote for her to go.”

Arizona threw up her middle finger at him.

“I picked up a cake for you, Carter,” Josh said, taking a six pack of beer out of a bag before handing it to me. “I figured you’d want an official one to celebrate tonight. Plus, I got some new alcohol that I need to use on a few of the slices later. Me and a few of my fraternity brothers want to run an experiment we saw on YouTube.”

“Of course you do.” I flipped the lid off the box, shaking my head once I read the lettering on the light blue cake. “Congratulations, it’s a Boy?”

“They ran out of graduation cakes.” He shrugged. “Better than nothing, right? Should I have gotten, Congratulations, it’s a Girl?”

Arizona and Dwayne burst into loud laughter, and I couldn’t help but laugh, too.

I grabbed my own six pack of beer and motioned for the three of them to follow me outside, past the backyard gate and to the beach. This was our last summer before we all would have to chase our own separate dreams, and I wanted to cling to the carefree life for a little while longer. The life where I could get away with being slightly irresponsible and all would be forgiven with an eye roll and slap on the wrist from the campus cops. The life where spending hours upon hours in a diner with friends and talking about absolutely nothing were the norm and not the exception, and a life where the beach was never more than a few blocks away.

Yet, as Arizona sat down right next to me in the sand— and began arguing with Josh as usual, I realized that something felt different about this summer already. But I couldn’t tell exactly what it was yet…

A few days later…

I locked the door to my bedroom and read over my father’s obituary for what must have been the millionth time—stopping on the words “He leaves behind a son he loved more than anything, his ex-wife (a woman who he always considered his “best friend”) and a fiancée…” The “woman he always considered his best friend” was always the part that jumped out at me.

He’d disappeared somewhere between the sixth and seventh grade—in between one of my birthday parties and the start of puberty. There was no formal notice, no formal talk about why he was leaving; my mom and I woke up one morning—refreshed after our annual family vacation, and realized all of his stuff was gone.

The next time we saw him, he was on TV—heading some huge celebrity divorce case. The next time we saw him after that was in the newspapers—he’d just won one of the biggest class action lawsuits in the country. And the last time we saw him was at his funeral; his new, much younger fiancée had been drinking and lost control at the wheel.

To his credit, he gave my mother everything she thought she wanted in the divorce—alimony, child support, timeshares, and two vacation houses they’d bought together. He sent birthday and holiday cards like clockwork and every now and then he sent us flight tickets to visit him; flight tickets that never got redeemed.