Read Kid Owner Online

Authors: Tim Green

Kid Owner

BOOK: Kid Owner
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DEDICATION

For my #1 reader and super son Ty

CONTENTS
1

PRESENT . . .

It's not easy to be different.

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and for the most part I'd agree. Everything around me is as big as my state: our home, the truck my mom drives, the football program in our town, even my best friend—all big. That's why being known as the little guy is tough. I'm scrappy, though, and I play football like so many other kids, whether they're really made for it or not. At the end of practice the day my life took a wicked turn, the big Texas sky opened up so that we ran our sprints through a cascade of water falling from above. In August, even the rain can't deliver you from the heat, so when I got home I needed a shower pretty badly. I dried off and had dinner with my mom. Afterward, I sat in my favorite chair in the living room with
The Chocolate War
,
a book our English teacher had given us for summer reading to prepare for our first assignment as seventh graders.

I was pretty well into the book and liking it when I heard the tune of my mom's phone ringing in the kitchen, where she sat at her computer, and I sensed the distress in her voice after she answered it. I let the book fall into my lap as I listened in with no idea what had happened, only knowing that whatever it was, it wasn't good. I heard her say thank you and good-bye and then her footsteps coming my way. I put my nose back into my book until she cleared her throat.

“Hi,” I said, looking up. “What's going on?”

She crossed the room, weaving in and out of the dark wood and leather furniture, and took my hand. The sun had gone down, leaving a pitch-black sky. Lightning flashed in the big picture window and a rumble of thunder shook the house before she spoke. “Ryan, your father passed away.”

I blinked up at her, speechless.

“I—I just thought you should know.” She squeezed my hand and walked away without another word.

I didn't know what to do, or say, so I looked down at my book again and read a couple sentences before realizing I had no idea what they had said. I let the book drop again into my lap, thinking about the power of words. Two words, actually:
father
and
football
.

YEARS EARLIER . . .

These two harmless words were never spoken in my house while I was growing up.

They were the F-words. That's what my mother called them.

The father thing I understood. Everyone had one except me, so even
I
didn't like to talk about that. When I was really little, we had to draw a picture of our family in kindergarten. I'd drawn Julian off to the side so people might
think
he was my father. He and his wife, Teresa, work for us and live in our guesthouse. When my mom had seen the red Texas Rangers hat on the stick figure of a man, she'd known it was Julian, but my teacher and classmates thought it was my dad. I couldn't have really drawn my father because I'd never met him, never seen a picture of him, and knew nothing about him.

By the time I was eight years old, though, the idea of my dad had grown into something much bigger than a stick figure. I knew he was out there, somewhere. And I felt I would someday meet him, so I wanted to be worthy. My plan was to become the most important and awesome kind of person there was: an NFL football player. And I'd planned on being a quarterback. I was small—I knew that. But there were other small NFL quarterbacks, and their lack of size only made them that much more special. My father would be amazed.

I'd dreamed of one day inviting him to a Ben Sauer Middle School game. Maybe we'd be playing Eiland, our toughest rival. After a glorious win, he would wait for me outside the locker room along with the families of my teammates. I'd come out, totally exhausted from several touchdown runs. My father would see me and his eyes would grow wet. He would ache for the times he missed with me growing up. He would wish with all his heart that the two of us could now become even closer, to make up for lost time.

I would smile warmly and keep my cool, because I didn't really know the man. I grew up keeping an emotional distance from the thought of my dad mostly because I suspected he had done something wrong to my mom. Why else would he have run off? Why else would my mom avoid talking about him altogether? Why else would
father
be an F-word?

Football
being an F-word was another story. I didn't get that one.

In Texas, football is a religion, but it wasn't in my house. My mom didn't like it, and that's putting it mildly.

“Too much violence,” she'd say.

I mean, I was small and fast like my mom, so I understood why she pushed me to play soccer, but why couldn't we
talk
about football?
Football
being the other F-word didn't keep me from being a closet Dallas Cowboys fan, though. I'd sneak away and watch their games at other people's houses. I'd watch reruns of local sports shows featuring Cowboys players and coaches on my iPad. I even hid a box of playing cards in the garage inside a spare tire under a tarp in a far corner.

I was okay keeping my love of the game a secret because my mother and I had made a deal. If I played soccer for three years and really tried, she'd let me play football when I was older.

“How old?” I'd asked.

“Third grade.” She threw that number out there probably because it seemed so far away at the time. I know it did to me.

I took those words and planted them in my heart. And they grew fast and big like the seeds of a tree. So by the time I was eight, they were as large as the monster oaks in our front yard. I never considered my mom might not know they were there.
Who in Texas
didn't
dream of being a football player?

I don't mean to knock soccer. I loved the game, and I was pretty good. But when I was at school, I couldn't get through lunch without hearing about football. So, it was lunch that killed soccer for me.

Every fall in elementary school, week after week, all the guys in my neighborhood would sit at the lunch table and talk about the Highland Knights youth football game coming up on Sunday morning. They'd be playing Carrollton or Grand Prairie or North Haven Park, and they made every week sound like it was going to be as important and monumental as World War III.

The only other kid who'd played soccer with me was Melvin Patterson. At first, we'd try to talk about our games, cramming our mouths with ham and cheese sandwiches, slurping our milk through straws. But it was never as exciting. Even our rivals sounded lame: the Innwood Spitfires or the Royal Creek Robins. So we'd sit with our heads bent low over Premier League football trading cards, uttering names like Yaya, Suárez, Messi, and Rooney, but all the while secretly listening to talk of trap blocks, go routes, reverses, and safety blitzes.

Then, in the beginning of August, during the summer between second and third grade, the day finally came: sign-ups for Premier Youth Football League, the finest football in Texas. The chatter about PYFL between my future teammates had begun months before, at the end of second grade.

It became clear to me that I'd have to cut Melvin loose and save myself. Melvin's dad would never let him play football.

That summer I'd started asking my mom to invite the guys from my class over for swimming. I may know kids with an even
bigger house than ours, but I'd never heard anyone say we don't have the best pool. We have this waterworks thing in the shallow end with sprayers and hoses and a big plastic alligator that spits water. There are these gears you can crank around to change which spouts spurted, dribbled, or sprayed in crazy zigzag liquid ropes. And in the deep end is a fifteen-foot curlicue slide along with a high dive.

That summer, I'd drop hints about maybe playing football. By the time all the moms had started buying new shoes and lunch boxes, I had myself slated as a key player for the Highland Knights.

All the kids and I pretty much knew the entire roster and who would likely play where. Mr. Simpkin, Jason Simpkin's dad, who used to play for SMU, was our coach.

One night, when all the guys were having a sleepover at Jason's house, his father was in the backyard tossing a football around with us. Kids were racing each other to show their coach how fast they'd become. Jason's dad watched with interest and when I'd suggested that I race Jason—who had beaten everyone else—his father had smiled at the joke and said, “Sure. Let me see you and Jason go at it.”

Jason was a cobra, lean and strong with poison in his mouth and eyes dead as glass. He had looked at me and snorted, and the gang all stopped and stared. No one challenged Jason Simpkin and won.

We crouched low and took off together.

BOOK: Kid Owner
12.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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