A week earlier.
Troy smirked as his best friend, Vince Randolph, shoved a book into his overstuffed locker.
“It won’t stay shut,” Vince grumbled. He forced the locker closed with his shoulder and braced in case it burst open again. “Whew, I think it will hold for now,” he said with a grin.
“Man, Vince, you’re a total slob,” Troy said laughing. “Your locker is jammed with everything but books.”
“Dude, there’s one book in there,” Vince said.
The locker door suddenly flew open. The book sailed out and smacked Vince in the side of the head. “Ah man!” Vince moaned.
Before Vince could stop it, the remaining junk in his locker spilled onto the floor with a loud crash. There were old, smelly socks, stacks of paper glued together with melted candy, various containers of half-eaten chocolate pudding, and a new pair of sneakers with a wad of dried gum stuck to the bottom of one of the shoes. A small flag sailed to the ground in a final descent.
Troy burst out laughing. “Like I said...everything but books.”
Vince rolled his eyes. He glanced behind Troy and immediately paled.
“Dude, what gives?” Troy said. He followed Vince’s gaze.
A group of senior girls strolled by. In the lead, was Barbara Haler. Now this was a girl who could turn heads. In fact, every guy in the school hallway was staring at Barbara. She wasn’t the kind of girl you bring home to your mother, but she was a girl you wanted as your date to the school dance.
Eye candy was just the outer wrapper to describe a girl like Barbara. She always wore the same, big hoop earrings. She had wavy, auburn hair that she’d pin up in a half ponytail.
As she passed Troy, she casually gave him a side, flirty smile. Then she noticed the large trash heap at their feet and her eyes flitted to Vince. “I think you dropped something,” she said.
As soon as the group of girls had passed, Vince punched Troy’s arm.
“Whoa! Did you see that? Barbara Haler’s got the hots for you!”
Troy felt his face burn as Vince gazed at him in newfound awe. Troy playfully kicked him in the shins.
“Ow, dude!” Vince whined. He quickly brushed off his jacket. “So...you gonna ask her out?”
Troy gave a fake cough. “Yeah, Vince. Right. Watch me just go over there and ask Barbara out in front of him.”
With a confused look, Vince turned to see where Troy was pointing. Down the hall, Barbara had thrown her arms around a tall guy wearing a varsity letter jacket.
“Ick, it’s Stealer!" Vince muttered in disgust. “How can Barbara date a jerk like that?”
Besides Vince’s gifted ability to transform everything he touched into a trash heap, he was a great whiner. And most of the time, he whined about the senior, Roger Steeler. “The Stealer” as he liked to call him.
Roger was well-off. And he liked to steal Vince’s style. So when Vince would wear his striped shirt and vest, the very next day, Roger Steeler would show up in a similar outfit. But the difference was that Roger’s outfit cost about five times as much as Vince’s. Today was no different. Under the varsity letter jacket, Troy could see Roger sported a black and white striped dress shirt and black slacks. It was the same outfit Vince had worn the day before.
The boys pushed the fallen junk pile back into the locker.
“Come on, Troy,” Vince grumbled as he wiped off his hands. “Let’s jam before Stealer makes me puke up my breakfast.” He pointed a finger down his throat as he and Troy headed to class in the opposite direction.
“Wanna go to Joe’s after your soccer practice gets out?” Vince asked. “It’s Friday. I’ve been craving pizza all week. Plus, my dad just gave me my allowance.”
Troy shrugged. “Sure thing, man. Let’s hope MCM doesn’t sprint me to death again.”
He watched Vince disappear into the science lab. With a sigh, he made his way to History. Aside from pickup baseball, Troy played varsity soccer. Although he was uncommonly fast, he rarely started games.
His big-bellied soccer coach, Mark Chuck Martin, or MCM, as he told the boys to call him, only played the seniors. But Troy was happy just to play soccer.
Plus, Troy had fans. His mom never missed a game and his buddy Vince never missed the opportunity to heckle the opposing team.
Troy met up with Vince after soccer practice. The boys raced each other to the local subway. This time, Troy let Vince win. The subway was only three stops to the Lower East Side. Once they were off the train, the boys crossed to the next block. Joe’s Pizza diner was slouched between two tall apartment buildings. Vince’s face lit up at the sight of his favorite hang-out.
Troy smiled too. It was their Friday routine to drop by Joe’s. That’s what’s great about big cities like New York. No matter what kind of day you’re having, or how bad you’re feeling, a slice of pizza in New York will make you feel just fine again.
Troy and Vince grinned as their favorite waitress sailed by them with a stack of dishes. “Took you boys long enough!” she yelled in greeting.
“When are you going to call me, Rita?” Vince hollered, as the waitress disappeared into the kitchen. The boys guffawed loudly at their joke. Rita was a few years older and attended community college. Despite how young she was, she was already engaged to her boyfriend. But this fact didn’t stop Vince from constantly trying to win her over every time he saw her.
“Hey, Rita, you still love me?” Vince asked. He leaned back in his chair to gaze up at the waitress as she approached their table.
Rita laughed. She was used to Vince’s humor.
“Yes, Vince. Now what’ll it be for you two young hunks? The usual, plain cheese?” She smiled pleasantly at them and flicked her long, black braid over her shoulder.
“Troy and I will split the medium pepperoni. Oh, and add two strawberry shakes. Extra whipped cream,” Vince said.
“Great, I’ll put your order into the kitchen now,” Rita said with a giggle.
“Thanks. We’ll be here when you get back,” Vince joked.
Rita hurried away laughing.
Troy settled himself into the plastic chair. He slowly began to unwind as he took in the familiar sights and smells of the diner around them.
Joe’s was small, but always crowded. People were constantly coming and going. Some stayed inside to eat, and others hollered over the counter to get pies or slices as takeout.
It was the kind of place you could disappear into a corner table, listen to some jams on the radio, and dive head-first into a massive, greasy slice of pizza.
Troy heard a whirring sound. He turned to watch Rita pour a thick milkshake into a tall glass. Besides their pizza, Joe’s was known for their milkshakes. The place used to be a fast food joint before Big Joe took it over.
Joe’s wasn’t just a Troy-and-Vince secret. Roger Steeler had found out about their local hangout when Vince dropped a Joe’s pizza box out of his locker just as the Stealer walked past. After that, it was inevitable that Roger would show up at Joe’s.
Now you would expect Vince to get upset that Roger “The Stealer” was now a regular at their favorite hang-out, but in fact, that wouldn’t be the case. Although Roger was a pain in the neck kind of guy, he kept good company. So although Vince cringed when he saw Roger at Joe’s, he couldn’t bring himself to whine outright since he and Troy could freely gaze at beautiful Barbara Haler.
Sometimes Troy’s mom would ask him about girls. To this, Troy would shrug his shoulders and groan, “Come on, Mom! Me? Go on a date? Yeah, right!”
His mother would nod and turn away sadly. He knew she worried about him. Relationships were a big deal to her and she didn’t want Troy to end up alone like she was.
Troy got home late after Joe’s. He could hear his mother’s fan clicking in her room. That meant she was already asleep. His mom worked as a nurse in one of New York’s busiest hospitals.
He gazed around the dimly lit apartment. A small couch and mini television sat cramped in a corner as a makeshift living room. A tiny kitchen and bathroom were on the opposite side.
With a sigh, he flung his backpack down onto the kitchen counter. Troy knew his mom didn’t make a lot of money. And the city was expensive. His mom had always been careful about buying things for the apartment and clothes for Troy.
“Make them last,” she’d always say when she and Troy checked out at the cash register with a new pair of pants or shoes. Troy guessed that half the reason he stayed invisible at his high school was because he couldn’t dress to impress like the classier Roger Steeler types of guys.
Troy headed to his room. He and his mom had converted the larger living room into his room by installing a fake wall. The wall was all that separated him from the noisy streets outside.
Some nights were harder than others. A new couple had moved in next door. And they fought all the time. Troy would toss and turn on his bed and try without luck to block out their screaming voices. And besides yelling, his new neighbors loved nothing more than to throw things at each other – it usually sounded like books, shoes, and one time, a plate.
But after Troy heard the sound of yet another unidentified flying object colliding against his wall, followed by the hysterical shrieking of the new wife, Betty Carls yelling at her husband, Charles Carls, Troy decided he’d never marry.
That’s what his mom said, anyway. After Troy’s dad had left, she’d vowed to never walk down that aisle with anyone again. So she changed her last name back to her maiden name, Mills. But Troy kept his father’s name, Knightly.
And that’s pretty much how Troy’s life had been.
Only recently did Troy begin to notice that his mom was struggling. It didn’t really dawn on him how challenging their financial situation was until she told him. And that was only the half of it. Earlier that week, his mom had come into his room, sat on the edge of his bed, and asked what he thought about going to live with his grandfather in Florida.
Troy was shocked by her question. Leave New York? Forever? The idea was preposterous. His mom had seen his expression and understood right away that he was upset.
“Just think about it for me, ok?” she had said.
And Troy did. He sat for a long time after that. And he couldn’t sleep that night. All he knew was that when his mom decided on something, it would happen; and it was only a matter of time.
A car horn honked outside. Troy slumped down onto his desk chair. He saw his mother had placed a pile of clean clothes on his bed. Troy kicked the bottom of his desk in anger. He still hadn’t been able to break the news to Vince that he was going to be moving to Florida. Troy knew that once the news of his move was out there, Vince would be devastated. And he could bet Vince would never speak to him again.
Troy drummed his fingers on his desk as he tried to remember details of his Grandpa George. The last time he’d seen him was at the funeral for Grandma Molly. But that had been years ago when Troy was a little kid.
He knew his grandfather now lived alone in a big farmhouse. But he couldn’t remember what he was really like as a person. Maybe he was angry all the time? Or sad? Or even one of those hermits who doesn’t want to interact with anyone?
When Troy was small, he had seen his grandfather occasionally when he and Grandma Molly had come to New York to visit Troy and his mom during the holidays. But his grandparents would only stay for a few days. They didn’t like the noise and craziness of the city.
After Grandma Molly passed away, Grandpa George didn’t make the trip to New York anymore. Now, years later, Troy was expected to live with him?