The Beautiful Game

Soccer is simple for kids, right? Kick the ball into the other team’s goal and stop them from kicking it into yours. So they sign Grant up for soccer at age five. Grant has always been big, and he appears to be seven years old and playing with runts. Which would be to his advantage since he is bigger, stronger, and faster than everyone in the league. Except that he just doesn’t care about soccer.

In the team’s first game, the man watches a bundle of kids head one direction up the field, but Grant is not with them. The man scans the field. Grant is behind his own goalie in the goal, threading his arms through the net.

“Grant! What are you doing?”

“Hey, Dad! I’m Spider-Man!”

In another game, the man sees Grant knock a smaller kid down. Then, Grant finds another kid trailing the pack, and he knocks that kid down. Then, he sees another small kid at the edge of the pack, and he runs over and knocks that kid down. It’s like watching a lion pick off stragglers in a herd. How the teenage ref doesn’t notice this is beyond the man’s comprehension. He walks to the edge of the field and hollers, “Grant! Get over here!”

Grant runs over. “What, Dad?”

“What are you doing? Why do you keep knocking kids down?”

“I’m Draco Malfoy, Dad!”

The man rubs his face. “No, you’re not. Stop knocking kids down. They could kick you out of the game.”

In another game, there is a brief moment, a flash of what could be. Grant is loping along at the edge of the pack, and the ball lands at his feet. He looks at it, then at the crowd, reverses the field, dribbles like he has done it his whole life, outraces everyone to the goal, and deposits a perfect shot past the keeper into the net. Having done it once, he never bothers again.

Now, it is the final game of the season. Partway through the game, the man sees Grant running around with the front of his shirt pulled up entirely over his face and anchored to the back of his head. Other kids are laughing, while he wanders around blind.

“Grant! Get the shirt down now! And if you do that again, we’re done!”

Grant pulls the shirt down and smiles at him. A few minutes later, Grant pulls the shirt over his face again. The man stands up, folds up his camp chair, and says, “Let’s go, Grant!”

Grant pulls the shirt off his face and walks off the field toward the man while the game continues.

The teen girl who coaches the team hollers, “Do you want his trophy?”

“Nah,” says the man. “We’re all good.”

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