The Ball's Gotta Move

The Ball’s Gotta Move: Chapter Four

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Note: Josh Trott’s multi-part fictional Philadelphia soccer story continues with Chapter Four. New chapters will run on Mondays and Fridays. All the characters, soccer clubs, and schools in the story are fictional.

I asked GG, “Can I go to the International School?”

She was like, “What’s that?”

“It’s a public school.”

I could see her thinking. In our family everybody went to Catholic school but she didn’t know if she could afford it for me and then she had a problem: If she sent me to Catholic school and I got kicked out all her friends would know and they would talk about it and even if she didn’t mind trash talking me herself, she hated to hear her friends say that ish.

Also Ry is going to be in kindergarten next year and she and Pops aren’t making more money. So she says, “Is it a good school?”

I say, “You have to apply to get in.”

So she says, “Get some more information.”

So I looked it up on the old desktop in the backroom. I started reading the website to her. Some kind of thing about an international school where you learn about the world. That sounded cool. I didn’t know much about the world unless you count the part of it that is Port Fishington.

To get in you had to send them an essay and stuff.

I hate writing. And you had to have As and Bs. That was okay. You might think cause I fight and cuss that I’m some sort of idiot — and listening to GG that’s what I am  — but really, I’m not that dumb. I mean, I had those grades. Not great in English, but Math was strong.

I mean, you put it out there, some numbers, I can see that shit.

My math teacher always calls me “young genius.” The other kids hate it. Call me brown noser, worse shit than that, you probably don’t wanna hear. But I’m like, “I’m good at math, you’re not. Don’t hate. Add that shit up.” Haha.

I pretend to get mad. I say kind of rude things to him. When he’s not there, I talk about his dorky Reeboks and the glasses. But beyond all that, him and me are getting this math that the rest of the kids just look at like what it that.

My English teacher says I’m angry. She’s like, “Read The Outsiders, you’ll stop being mad.” But I read it and it just made me madder. I think she’s from some world where there really isn’t anything to be angry at. She has sort of plain brown hair—it’s straight—and she smiles really honest and knows about all of us. Reads our journals like they’re the Bible. It’s hard not to like her as a person but when she talks about how I shouldn’t be angry I’m like, “Shut up, dumb bitch.” I don’t say that to her, she’d probably cry. I don’t mean she’s like a cry baby, she just never probably heard someone come at her neck to that level. It would be a shock. I’d get suspended too. But she usually gives me a B- on essays because “It’s forcefully and passionately expressed, but you could use more grammar . . .”

Point is, I got good grades. My school is kind of small and the dean hates me cause I’m a pain in the ass. That’s what he says. “Ah, Junior. You’re a pain in my ass.”

I got in a fight. We were playing football after school and it was a mad dramatic jawn, like all these girls were watching after school. We were playing over at the park and the girls were like watching and talking about the game, which normally they just ignore it. I think this chick Amber liked Danny or something was why they were watching. Amber was kind of cute, freckles across her nose and her body turnt up. Not that she ever saw me. They always see the tall ones, right?

This kid Danny said I sucked at football. He threw this pass and I jumped for it and I missed it and it was the last play, a do or die.

“You lost the game,” he said. “I put that ball on a platter for you.”

I was walking back like I was ready to say my bad. Like, “Sure, I could have done better.” I sucked because I don’t really play it like that. I can’t catch. But at the moment I was like, “Who the hell are you, Danny, to go around saying this shit.” And the game was over and he’s sitting there putting it all on me. Like, that was the only missed catch in the game?

So you know what I did was I walked up to him and I said, “Oh yeah?”

He said, “Yeah! Go kick your soccer ball.”

Danny was a tall kid, a big kid. Got these shoulders like he thinks he’s blue-pants Captain America or something. He pushes that size around, like he took this one kid’s chocolate milk at lunch. The kid would be like, “Yo, that’s mine.” But then Danny was like, “You don’t like chocolate milk,” which was ridiculous because the kid picked it going through the lunch line. But this kid, his name was Ed, he always nodded.

Like, I wanted to stick up for him but if he didn’t at least say, “You can’t have it,” what was I supposed to do?

Anyway, Danny thinks cause he big as Iron Man’s tower I ain’t going to mess him up. So I was mad but I just wanted to win so first thing I did was knee him in the balls. When he came down to try and protect them little marbles, I was up in his face with two hard uppercuts, so he rolls on the ground, and then I’m on top of him.

The whole playground shouting, “Fight, fight!”

Me, I kept smashing him. Freaking big guy, not so big now, with me punching his face, like one two three.

Then I felt the NTA grab me and push me off, “ENOUGH!”

Well Danny wasn’t getting up so I felt like I made my point.

“Pain in my ass.” That was what the disciplinarian said.

I could hear voices in the next room. I saw Danny’s mom, and figured I heard his dad. It was the principal they were talking to. I kept hearing the mom shouting the word, “Animal!” Then the principal would say something, just a murmur through the door. Then her, shouting again, “Did you see my son’s face?”

I was suspended. The dean is talking about how this will probably result in expulsion, disciplinary school. That was the moment I got scared. Like I may have peed my pants a little. Here’s the thing: Straight Paths is anything but. They say you definitely get raped in that school if you go to the bathroom. Not only that. I’m going to be like the only white kid in there, so that equals about seven automatic beat downs.

Anyway, I figured the week off was extra time to work on my skills. I played around a while but you know how boring juggling, dribble runs, hitting the ball against the wall can be? All the time I’m thinking if I got to go to disciplinary school how I’m going to get beat up and all.

Turns out the math teacher went to bat for me. Said I was special and stuff.

I saw Danny two days later. On the street. I looked at him, like maybe he wanted to run it back but he didn’t look at me. Scared like a little bitch.

Well, it turned out that the suspension was only for a week, and I had to say sorry to Danny. His face was okay, just some yellow and green in it a week later.

I talked to Ms. Simms, I said, “I want to go to TIS.”

“Oh, that’s good, Junior.” That year I started asking people to call me Jimmy but no one remembered. I was still Junior. “Why do you want to go there?”

Well I wasn’t going to tell her the truth. I wanted to play soccer on a team, in a uniform, in a place where it mattered. My club had kicked me out cause of fighting. It wasn’t possible for Mom or GG to pay for Catholic School, and my father wasn’t putting in anything, was he, so a public school looked like my best soccer option.

I said, “They got a program where you learn about the world. I want to learn more.” I almost said “I want to broaden my horizons,” but I knew that was faker than what I already said.

She smiled, “That’s good, Junior.”

I said, “I need a letter of recommendation.”

She frowned. “I don’t think they want kids who get in fights over there.”

I shook my head, “No more fights, Ms. Simms. I promise.”

She looked at me. Held my eye. I knew she was smart enough to know that I was a fighter and it’d happen again, but she couldn’t deal with truth like that. She wanted to believe. Anyway, it was her job to write them, right?

She said, “Okay, Junior, but I have to be honest.”

“Thanks, Ms. Simms. Thanks so much. You won’t regret it.” She probably would.

I had the math teacher already locked up for a rec.

I went to my fifth grade teacher. She gave me a tired look when I walked in the door. I said, “Mrs. Greenberg? Can I get a rec for TIS?”

She laughed, “Why don’t you ask Mr. Thurman?”

Thurman is the dean. I said to Mrs. Greenberg, “I want the rec to say something beside, ‘Pain in the ass.’”

She laughed. She said, “I can write that you’re smart and want to learn, and a good kid until you lose your cool. I can’t lie.”

I remembered her big arms pulling me off a kid. How soft and strong they’d been. Like it was over, how it must feel to be pulled along by clouds.

I shrugged. It felt low key. Then I realized I was feeling emotions. She said, “You don’t have to say nothing, Junior. Just make us proud.”

She said that and the feelings died. I’m looking out the window and want to get out of there.

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