The strikerz bring it.., p.4
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       The StrikerZ - Bring it on!, p.4
 

           Randall James
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  “Alright, go to practise now, and we’ll talk about it later.” The three boys jogged off.

  “Man, that was close,” said Lukas.

  “That’s it for me, guys,” stated EZ. “I’m not stealing anymore.”

  “Me neither,” agreed Danny.

  “Don’t be a wuss, EZ,” Lukas blurted.

  EZ snapped and grabbed Lukas by his jersey, both of them screeching to a sudden stop. Lukas snatched EZ’s jersey in return, as they stood nose to nose.

  “It stops now, Lukas! That was too close.”

  “The cops can’t do anything to us,” Lukas loudly whispered. “We’re not sixteen.”

  “I don’t care, Lukas, I’m not lying to my dad anymore.”

  Danny stepped in between the two friends.

  “Chill, guys,” he ordered. “Let’s go to practise.”

  They loosened their grip on each other and continued on.

  ***

  EZ just went through the motions at practise. His mind was reeling from the store episode, and he still had to face his dad later. How embarrassing. Coach and his teammates weren’t saying anything about the police car, but he knew they had all seen it. He couldn’t even look at Fred.

  How stupid could he be? Argh! And he was going to straighten Lukas out too. Lukas’s family didn’t have much, and his mom stole herself, which wasn’t exactly a good example for Lukas, but still . . . .

  Late in the practise, Coach M called the team over to the side where the fans were. “We’re going to need a sub to start the year with. Any ideas?”

  EZ and his teammates searched the crowd with their eyes. Their friends from the hood, who didn’t play, shook their heads and smiled.

  Maddie asked, “What about Sandra?”

  “No way,” answered Sandra, putting her hands up in protest.

  “C’mon Sandra, I don’t want to be the only girl on the team, and we’ll have each other to talk to at games. Please?”

  Coach, Eileen and EZ started to encourage her as well, and finally Sandra caved. “But I don’t have any soccer shoes,” she remarked.

  “Don’t worry about that,” Eileen said. “And you already have a jersey.”

  EZ and Maddie grabbed Sandra by the arms and led her onto the field. Coach Monika quickly brought Sandra up to speed.

  When the practise came to an end, EZ knew that he had to face the music . . . .

  ***

  “So what’s going on, guys?” asked EZ’s dad, with his hands on his hips.

  “It’s true, Dad,” began EZ. He hated having a lie between his dad and himself, and he was now going to let the truth come out. “We sometimes take things from stores.”

  “Take things? You mean steal things, don’t you? What kinds of things?”

  “Well, mostly treats,” EZ answered. “Like chips and pop and chocolate bars and stuff.”

  “What stuff?”

  “Just treats, Dad.”

  “Lukas? Danny? Is that the whole truth?”

  “Yeah,” they both replied.

  “Have you guys been stealing anything else?”

  “No,” all three answered, shaking their heads.

  Colin sighed. “How long has this been going on?”

  “About six months,” EZ replied.

  “How could you go and steal with your brand new uniforms on? And yes, it does make it worse. You’re representing your team now. What would Fred and Eileen and Monika think?” The boys looked down.

  “Alright, EZ, you’re grounded. Lukas and Danny, you’re going to have to tell your mom and your dad. You can’t hide it, because everyone saw the police car.”

  Lukas and Danny nodded.

  “I’m very disappointed in you guys. Things aren’t so bad that you have to steal. You’re old enough to deliver newspapers or something to make extra money. Plus the neighbourhood is starting to get some help, so life’s improving.”

  He stepped closer to the boys. “I want the three of you to look at me and promise — no more stealing.”

  Each kid glanced at EZ’s dad and promised.

  “Alright guys, head on home.”

  CHAPTER 6

  First Game

  EZ was stoked and nervous at the same time. The first League game was on the following Saturday at 2 p.m. against the Sydney Reds silver team. It was sunny and cool. Fred had sent a bus to pick up the team and the parents, as well as many kids from the hood who were eager to be StrikerZ fans.

  Once they were on the field in Sydney, Coach Monika warmed up the team and gave them a pep talk. “Today I want you to play like Spain. And that means beautiful football — short, quick passes, and moving up and down the field together as one big unit. Find the open spaces, and find the open man. I want to see lots of movement. Keep possession of the ball. If Sydney gets it, take it back a.s.a.p.! Pressure them!”

  Fifteen minutes before the game, the Reds showed up. They were dressed in red shirts with white trim, red shorts, and red and white striped socks.

  Coach Monika did a few drills and then gave the team a final talk. They did the team cheer, and STRIKERZ filled the air. They were ready.

  Coach Monika’s Starting 11:

  Lukas EZ

  Milan Jose Danny Maddie

  Logan Zach Tommy Mario

  Bandit

  Both teams took their positions for the kick-off. The StrikerZ lined up in the 4-4-2 formation.

  TWEET! The StrikerZ kicked off the game! EZ tapped the ball to Lukas and ran forward. Lukas booted it to Jose and raced up the left side. Jose back-heeled to Logan. Logan kicked the ball across to Zach, who passed to Tommy, who booted it to Mario.

  The D passed it back toward the left, and Logan kicked the ball up to Milan, who found Danny cutting through the middle. Danny eluded a midfielder and zoomed toward the Sydney defence. He kicked it to Lukas on the left, who blazed past a defender and smashed a rising, hard shot off the left post. CLANG! The rebound bounced right to EZ, who drilled the ball home into the bottom right of the goal. BANG! It was 1-0, just like that! The StrikerZ cheered, slapped high-fives, and knocked fists on the way back to their positions.

  “Groovy!” yelled Lukas to EZ and Danny.

  “Great start, dudes!” added Danny, with his fist pumped.

  The Reds appeared shell-shocked by what had just happened. They took the kick-off and booted the ball back to their defenders, who were shaky with their passes.

  The StrikerZ raced forward, filling all passing lanes and taking the space away. The Reds couldn’t get past half and ended up kicking the ball out of bounds to the side. Milan took the throw-in and found Jose, who booted the ball to Maddie, who passed to Danny on the right. The passes were short and crisp.

  Danny accelerated down the right sideline and spotted EZ, unmarked in front of the goal. EZ screamed, “Danny!” Danny zipped a perfect pass, but EZ let it go through his legs — on purpose! The ball arrived at a wide-open Lukas, who buried it into the gaping goal. RIP! 2-0! “Yes!” EZ shouted, raising his arms. Lukas took off like a jet, with arms extended. His teammates mobbed him.

  The New Waterford fans cheered, clapped and hollered encouragement.

  On the next kick-off, the StrikerZ pressured the Reds again. Sydney just couldn’t get the ball out of their half. The StrikerZ had them covered like a blanket and quickly got possession of the ball. Jose kicked it to Maddie on the right, and she delivered a perfect lead pass to EZ, who was knifing through the middle of the box. He finished off the counterattack with a smash into the top right corner. BLAST! 3-0. The team and fans roared their approval!

  “Great strike, EZ!” shouted Milan.

  EZ looked over to Coach Monika as they walked to their half, and she gave him the back-off signal. EZ told the guys to cool it. “Back off and give them space. Tell the others.” This game is over.

  Lukas and Danny spread the word to their teammates, but they still tallied again before halftime as the Reds scored an OWN-GOAL! Maddie launched a long,
off-target kick for fun, but it deflected off a defender and bounced past the startled keeper. It was comical. The guys ran over, knocked fists and praised her, but she apologized. “Sorry, guys, I didn’t try to score.”

  “Sure, Maddie!” EZ teased.

  “EZ!” she giggled.

  The half ended 4-0, with Sydney getting no scoring chances.

  During the halftime break, Coach Monika said, “I want you to attack again, but if you get two more goals, back off and get Bandit some practise. I don’t believe in running up the score.”

  Cool. EZ hated teams who tried to humiliate other teams.

  Eileen brought the team orange slices, and they drank their juice. EZ gazed at his teammates. Man, we’re playing in a real league, with real uniforms. Unreal.

  Early in the second half, Danny received a great pass from Jose, dribbled past two defenders, made his patented crossover move on the keeper, and drilled the ball into the top left corner. Five minutes after that, Lukas received great service from Maddie and hammered the ball in off the cross bar. CLANG! 6-0! The rout was on! The Sydney keeper seemed scared of the blistering shots and wasn’t even trying to save them anymore. He just wanted to survive.

  At that point, the StrikerZ listened to their coach and totally backed off. Coach Monika subbed in Sandra for Mario to give her some playing time. The few shots that Sydney directed toward goal were handled easily by Bandit.

  TWEET! TWEET! TWEET!

  The game ended 6-0 for the StrikerZ. EZ knocked fists with his teammates. “Great job, guys!” he told them.

  The team gave three cheers for the Reds and slapped high-fives with them.

  “Cool,” remarked EZ to Danny and Lukas, as they walked back to collect their gear. “I wonder how good we really are. We need a bigger test ― like a gold team!”

  “Yeah, the silver team wasn’t that good,” confirmed Lukas. Danny nodded.

  The parents and fans gave the StrikerZ and Coach Monika a big round of applause as they walked over to the side.

  “Way to go, Son!” EZ smiled at his dad. He glanced at his two closest friends who were packing their kit bags. It bothered him that neither Lukas’s mom nor Danny’s dad were at the game. I mean, can’t they take a couple of hours out of their busy schedules?

  When everyone boarded the bus, Eileen jumped in and said, “Subway on us!” A big cheer went up.

  “Great,” whispered EZ to Danny, “I’m starving!”

  “Me too,” whispered Danny. They knocked fists.

  The players wolfed down their supper at Subway and hopped back on the bus. Fred and Eileen waved good-bye as the team departed.

  On the joyful drive home, Coach Monika stood up and said, “StrikerZ, I have an important announcement. Fred spoke with the League President after the game . . . and . . . we’re now in the Gold Division!”

  Another big cheer went up! EZ pumped his fist. Yes! I want to play against the best! How else am I ever going to play in Europe?

  CHAPTER 7

  Insight

  Everyone was buzzing about the property when the bus stopped at Central Elementary School — or what used to be the school. Over the past two weeks, the old buildings had been torn down and the rubble hauled away. EZ could see a bulldozer and a digger, and some holes. The speed of progress surprised him, and by the sounds of it, it surprised everyone else too.

  A metal fence surrounded the grounds, and there were high boards on the Hudson Street side.

  Everybody said good-bye to each other and headed home.

  Shortly after EZ and his dad entered the house, his dad went to check on the property. He returned fifteen minutes later and wrote some notes on his clipboard.

  Later that evening, EZ said good-night to his dad and started to head up the stairs.

  “Diego . . . your mom called today,” his dad said. “She phoned someone in the neighbourhood and got our new number. She wants to see you.”

  EZ froze halfway up the stairs and looked back at his dad. Not this again.

  “I don't want to see her,” he replied coldly. “Is she clean?”

  “Sounds like she’s been clean for three months,” his dad answered. “But who knows?”

  “When she’s totally off drugs for a year, I’ll think about it. She’s just lying.”

  Colin looked EZ in the eyes. “Remember, Son, it's the drugs, not her.”

  “I know, Dad, but something has to make her stop. This has been going on for years. If she really loves me and my sister, she’ll stop.” EZ was thinking about his little half-sister, Kaylee, who lived with his mom. “I'm not talking to her yet.”

  “Okay, Son.”

  EZ kept going upstairs and was glad that his dad had let it go.

  Later, he lay awake in bed with his hands under his head. He gazed out the bedroom window into the starry night sky. His thoughts were far away — thoughts of his mom and dad and himself.

  His mom used to hug him and kiss him on top of his head when he left for school each day. She always gave him milk and cookies after school and made a great supper. Meatloaf with mashed potatoes was his most fave meal, especially on cold and rainy days.

  She used to take him outside and show him how to dribble the ball — and do tricks with it. She was a great football player. Monika reminded him a lot of his mom — when she had been straight.

  Everything started to change five years ago, but it felt like a million years ago. His parents began partying more than normal. They had met some new friends who were always dropping by and drinking. And then somehow drugs came on the scene, and one of his mom’s friends got her hooked on crack. How did that happen?

  She started to party more and more, and sometimes wouldn’t come home for days at a time. And when she did make it home, she always acted weird — jittery. It was like she couldn’t sit still for five minutes. She'd be straight for a few days, but then she would disappear again. She started lying and stealing too . . . . It was like I didn’t even know her anymore; like she was a completely different person.

  It was really hard on his dad, too. After a while they got used to not seeing her. What a complete disaster. Oh, man . . . .

  EZ stopped thinking about his mom because it was too painful. He tossed and turned.

  His dad was getting a lot better lately. Fred had given him an advance on his pay and bought him an iPhone. It was so funny when his dad got it, because he didn’t have a clue how to use it.

  Maddie owned one, and EZ asked her to come over and show his dad how to use it. It was kind of embarrassing, though, because EZ didn’t know much about the iPhone either. But Maddie was cool about it and didn’t make him feel stupid.

  Maddie did a lot of babysitting in the hood and had saved her money to buy her own iPhone. He was kind of proud of her, because she did all that without any parents. She’s pretty mature for only living with her sister.

  It was cool to see his dad working again. He seemed way more confident — like he used to be. My dad, the Airborne Commando, tough as nails!

  Now, if only Mom could get her life back on track . . . .

  EZ drifted off to sleep . . . .

  ***

  As Lukas walked into his house, he saw his mother lying on the couch in the living room and watching TV — as usual.

  “Hi, Mom! We won the game!” He threw his kit bag in the closet.

  “That’s great,” came the subdued reply. “Your supper’s on the stove.”

  “They fed us,” stated Lukas.

  “Well, what am I supposed to do with your supper?” she snapped.

  “Mom, you’re so crabby. Didn’t you hear me? We won the game. I scored two goals!”

  “Yeah, I heard you, but we can’t waste our food.”

  Lukas stared at the pots on the stove and shouted, “I hate beans and potatoes anyway! I’m sick of them! Why can’t we ever have anything good?”

  “We’re on welfare, Lukas — remember? Money’s tight!”

  “Why don’t
you get a job then?” Lukas hollered. “All you do is lie on the couch watching TV!”

  “Watch your mouth, Lukas! You might get your wish sooner than you think. Social Assistance sent me a letter last week. They want me to start looking for work, and get off welfare. And if I start a job and then it doesn’t work out, what are we going to do? We’ll be cut off!” She started to cry.

  Oh, no. She’s crying again! Lukas decided to just go to his room. SLAM!

  ***

  When Danny arrived home, he wanted to tell his dad all about the game, but he was drunk. Danny was hit by a wall of whiskey odour as soon as he opened the door and walked into the kitchen. He detested that smell! He tried to talk with his dad, but he was too busy watching some stupid reality show, and just mumbled something nonsensical.

  Danny strolled through the small house and looked at his fave carvings. He touched some of them. Hanging on the wall and sitting on shelves were eagles, bears, whales, and other animals. These creatures always made him feel confident. They were his friends. He would often imagine that he was an eagle or a bear or a killer whale, especially when he played soccer.

  His dad was Mi’kmaq First Nation, and his mom was Songhees First Nation from Victoria, B.C. His parents had met at a conference in Toronto, and they were super-talented artists — they used to carve a lot. In fact, his mom introduced his dad to West Coast Art. But after they got separated, his dad drank more and more, and then he totally stopped carving. Danny didn't talk about it, but he promised himself that he would never, ever drink.

  Danny looked in the fridge and cupboards to see if there was anything to snack on. In the fridge, nothing — a tiny bit of milk, some Pepsi, a chunk of partially wrapped, mouldy, old cheese. In the cupboards, a few stale crackers and a small amount of peanut butter.

  Danny thought about the team trip to Subway after the game. Fred and Eileen are awesome. Devoured — one foot-long roast beef sub! Mmmm. That was so good. At least my stomach won’t growl tonight . . . .

  Why did Colin make us promise not to steal anymore? That’s so unfair. That’s how we get munchies. Everyone steals in this hood — including some parents.

  He said good-night to his dad and went to his room to read comic books. As he closed his door, he picked up one of his few treasures; the framed picture of his mom that sat on his dresser. The photo was from eight years ago — the last time he had seen her.

 
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