(Title suggestions are welcome)
“Go on, Elliot, you can do it,” his father nudged him gently on the back.
The boy turned around and gave him the stern look of a ninety-year-old pensioner who refuses to take his pills. Then he sought his mother’s face, changing his expression to that of a hurt puppy. She, however, was not budging either. His last hope stood next to her husband, her hand resting on the man’s shoulder, her head nodding in silent agreement. Not a chance, love, her eyes were saying as she gave him an encouraging smile.
Elliot sighed as he started to trudge slowly down the driveway. What was the point? It always ended in the same way – he was bullied, made fun of, or simply ignored. Oh, well, we might as well get it over with. Then his parents would feel guilty for making him do something so pointless and humiliating. They might even let him stay in his room and play videogames for a week.
It didn’t take long for the cul-de-sac kids to notice him.
“Hey!” The skinny blond girl with the pixie cut stopped their play, took the ball in her hands and approached the slightly nervous Elliot. “You are the new kid. You’ve just moved in old Pete’s house, right? We saw the furniture trucks last week, didn’t we, Sam?” She turned to the other girl in the group, both of them wearing matching soccer jerseys.
“Mhhm,” Sam confirmed, crouching down to make use of the suspended play in order to tie her shoelaces.
“I don’t know who old Pete is,” Elliot replied. “My parent’s didn’t tell me who they bought the house from.”
“Yeah, yeah…” The boy sitting on the curb chimed in without even looking up from his PSP. “Of course it’s old Pete’s house. Don’t be silly. It’s the first house on our street to be sold in years.”
“Hey! I am the one doing the interrogation here!” The girl said authoritatively and gave the PSP boy a threatening look.
“Don’t mind Abby. Her dad’s a policeman.” The boy paused his game and stood up. He was visibly taller and bigger than the rest of them, as he towered almost a head over Elliot. “Hi! I’m Jack,” he outstretched his hand.
Elliot gave it an iffy shake, “I’m Elliot.”
Jack seemed to take back his role of tribe leader and proceeded with the introductions. “So, as you have already learned, these two troublemakers here are Abby and Samantha.” Sam waved and beamed a wide smile, revealing two missing front teeth. “And that little guy over there is Lil John – he’s Sam’s brother and he’s five.” Jack gestured to the chubby black kid, clad is all types of protective gear, who was standing between two bagpacks in the middle of the street.
“Five and a half!” The boy protested. “And who yo callin’ little?”
“Dude!” Jack laughed. “We’ve literally been calling you Lil John since you were born. Don’t act so surprised.”
“Don’t patronize me!” No one knew where the kid was picking up these big words. They all laughed. Lil John crossed his arms in front of the plastic breastplate he was wearing, “You just think you’re cooler than me because your parents let you do whatever you like.”
“That’s not true,” Jack said.
“It is!” Sam interfered and then turned to Elliot. “His parents are the coolest! His mom has tattoos all over her arms! And his dad lets us play soccer in their back yard, even if we ruin the grass. They let him stay up late outside, and he’s the only one of us who’s allowed to play his PSP whenever he likes!”
“This may be so, but it’s only to keep me distracted or out of the house, so that they can have Ess E Ex.” Jack winked.
“Yuck! Jack!” Abby screamed. “Yuck, yuck, yuck!”
“Ex-what?” Elliot was confused.
“In–Ter–Course,” Jack said slowly. “You know, what people do in order to make babies? My folks are champions – I have a four-year-old brother, two-year old sister and my mom’s expecting another one in four months.”
“Aaah, you mean sex.” Elliot did know about the birds and the bees. When the kids in their old neighborhood started calling him all kinds of names, his parents sat with him and explained patiently that only petty people would use normal parts of the human anatomy as insults. And then they proceeded by telling him that it is those very body organs which are responsible for the creation of the biggest miracle in the world – human life.
“Shhh!” Sam put her index finger in front of her plump lips and whispered. “We do not say those words in front of Lil John – he’s too young.”
“Oh, OK.” He covered his mouth and threw a quick glance at the kid in order to check how much he had heard.
“What did you say?” Lil John came closer to the four of them. “Were you saying something about me again?” Phew, he hadn’t messed up.
“Hey, Elliot!” Abby interjected, trying to quickly change the subject. “Do you like playing soccer? Sam and I love it! As if you couldn’t tell.” She stretched her white jersey, proudly demonstrating the USA emblem on it. “We wanna play for the national team when we grow up. They are the best in the world! I wanna be just like Abby Wambach! I already have the same name! It’s a sign!”
“Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself?” Jack smirked. “You haven’t even been able to win your little league.”
“Shut up, Jack!” She countered him. “Don’t think that you’ll become the new Ninja by playing on your PSP all day.”
“Girls, listen to you older and wiser friend – gaming is the future!”
“Ha-ha!” Sam almost choked laughing. “Older and wiser? You haven’t even started third grade yet!” Then she turned to Elliot, “Yeah, Elliot, do you want to play soccer with us?”
“Ermmm… I can’t.” the boy stuttered.
“It’s OK. We can teach you!”
“No,” he sounded insecure. “It’s just that… I am not able to.”
“What do you mean?” Abby asked perplexed and suddenly all eyes turned on him.
Well, that was it. Now they were going to start mocking him like everyone else. He might as well show them…
Elliot took a deep breath and slowly lifted his right pant leg up. Below it was his titanium limb – a thin but strong metal piece, tightly strapped to his knee, on one side, and ending with a fake foot on the other, in order for it to be able to fit in his sneaker.
“Wow!” Jack jumped up. “Are you a robot? That’s so cool!”
“No,” Elliot’s heart sank. “When I was really little, doctors found a tumor in my bones, so they had to amputate my leg. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember.”
“Oh, Elliot,” Abby suddenly hugged him. “Are you OK now?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I just can’t really walk that well, or bend my knee like it’s supposed to go. There are better prosthetic legs, but they are expensive. And my parents can’t afford to buy me a new one every few months while I’m still growing.” He had started babbling. He wasn’t used to kids being nice to him and did not know how to react.
“I’m glad you’re healthy now,” Sam patted him on the back. “And you don’t have to worry. You’re not the first special person in this group.”
The whole time Lil John had been silent. As he stood next to his sister, suddenly he started removing his breastplate. Once it was unstrapped, he let it fall to the ground and lifted up his t-shirt revealing a big red scar in the middle of his chest.
He grinned, “I have an atrial septal defect. It’s a heart condition.”
“His condition is not that bad,” Sam started to explain. “After the surgery he should be able to do anything we can. But our parents are a little overprotective…”
“Yeah, so that’s why they don’t let him strain himself too much.” Abby cut in. “But we let him play as goalie sometimes. And we don’t shoot too hard at him.”
“You can try being a goalie as well, Elliot,” Sam suggested. “You really don’t have to move that much.”
“Thank you, Sam!”
“Elliot!” His mom’s voice came from up the street. “Dinner is almost ready. We are waiting for you.”
“Coming, mom!” The boy shouted back, beaming with excitement. “Nice meeting you all, guys!”
“Nice to meet you too, Elliot!” Abby hugged him again!
“See you tomorrow?” Lil John asked eagerly.
“Yes! Sure! I’d love to!” He waved goodbye to his new friends. “See you tomorrow!”
“And, Elliot,” Jack shouted after him, “you don’t have to be a goalie if you don’t want to. We could also play ‘Pirates and Aliens’!”