Ben has shaggy red hair and freckles. He is stocky, while his buddy Aaron is skinny with wavy blond hair. The boy is on the field behind the school for gym time. It is his first week at Sanders Elementary in Corpus Christi. They moved over the summer from San Antonio.
They are playing soccer. The past fall, the boy played center striker on the Texas state champion U10 team, San Antonio Sidewinders. After five days of school, he has no friends. Normally at recess, he has been swinging on the swings by himself, pretending he is a Top Gun pilot. Sometimes, he would jump from the swing while pretending to be a paratrooper.
“Why don’t you play soccer with the other boys?” his mother told him. “You’re probably better than any kid out there. They’ll want you on their team after you show them.”
He is one of the last picked, of course. Ben picks him with an eye roll: “The nerd herd guy,” he says.
For twenty minutes, he runs up and down the field, open almost the whole time. No one passes to him. Once, he calls for the ball. Aaron looks up at him, then passes to Ben. Another time, a different kid passes him the ball. He takes two dribbles before Ben hisses, “Give me the ball, Nerd Herd.” He gives up the ball, and partway through, he walks off the field and back to the swings.
The next day, Ms. Sisler says she needs to go make copies for their next exercise. She has two name takers—a different person gets the job each week for being good; the other is the boy … permanently. In a week, he has won her affection and been awarded permanent name taker. The moment Ms. Sisler is out of the room, he whirls from his desk in the front. Aaron is talking and giggling. The boy writes his name down. He waits a few seconds. Aaron is still going. Check mark. Waits a few more. Still going. Check mark.
When Ms. Sisler returns, Aaron has three checks. It is enough to send him to the office.