excerpt from Tangerine

Even though he’s legally blind, 12-year-old Paul Fisher can see quite a bit through his bug-eyed, Coke-bottle glasses. His parents don’t always do as they say. His beloved sports-star brother, Erik, is a self-absorbed bully. And the town the Fishers have moved to—Lake Windsor Downs, in Tangerine County, Florida—might just be the strangest place on Earth. So strange, in fact, that Paul begins to wonder if it might just be the place for a four-eyed zero to transform himself into a certified hero. In this excerpt from the critically acclaimed young adult novel by Edward Bloor (b. 1950), Paul watches on as his brother's football dreams come crashing down.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 23

The third quarter was as dull as the first two, but Cypress Bay’s offense suddenly got it together in the final period. They drove eighty-five yards for a touchdown, most of those yards coming from that big fullback. The kick for the extra point was good, and Cypress Bay led 7–0.

 

Antoine responded with two short runs and then a beautiful forty-yard pass to Terry Donnelly, who was wide open down the left sideline. I could have caught that pass. My grandmother could have caught it, for that matter, but Terry Donnelly dropped it. Antoine had to punt again.

 

That’s when I noticed the black clouds rolling in. That whole mess with the visitors’ bleachers and Mr. Bridges and the cops had pushed the game past the four o’clock barrier. In a matter of minutes, we went from sunny skies to kaboom! And then down it came, a hard, cold rain. Most of the fans climbed down from the bleachers and ran for their cars. Mom yelled, “Come on, you two!” but Dad said, “No, you go ahead. I’m staying,” so I said, “I’m staying, too.”

 

Mom was already on the ground. She yelled back, “Fine. Stay. I hope neither of you gets killed.” She ran back to the Volvo, leaving us to get soaked. Or worse.

 

The rain turned out to be a blessing for Lake Windsor. The offensive line started pushing Cypress Bay back, letting Antoine move the ball steadily down the field—five yards, six yards, five yards, seven yards. With two minutes to play, the Seagulls were all the way down to the Cypress Bay five-yard line. Antoine faked a run to the right and lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone that some mud-covered Seagull receiver caught for a touchdown. A soggy cheer went up from the few fans left in the bleachers. The score was 7–6, and Erik’s big moment had arrived.

 

He came running onto the field in his perfectly clean, mud-free uniform to kick the extra point that would tie the game. Erik had never missed a point. Never. I was expecting to see Arthur Bauer trotting out with him, but number 4 was still standing there on the sideline with the other clean uniforms.

 

The two muddy teams lined up. Erik got into his kicking stance, and Antoine Thomas crouched down in front of him to hold the ball. I said, “Check it out, Dad. Antoine’s the holder.”

 

“I see,” he said grimly. “Erik told me that Arthur would be his holder. I don’t think it’s such a good idea to throw a surprise like this at your kicker.”

 

Dad, and Erik, and I, and everybody else figured that Arthur had taken over Mike Costello’s job. But no. There was Antoine, in the crouch, getting ready to spin the laces and set the ball down for Erik.

 

The referee blew his whistle, the clock started to tick, and Lake Windsor’s big center snapped the ball. Erik, his head down in total concentration, took two steps forward, like he’s rehearsed a million times. His foot started toward the ball in a powerful arc, and then—the most incredible thing happened. Antoine whipped the ball away at the last second, like Lucy does with Charlie Brown. He took off running around the right side and crossed the goal line, untouched, for a two-point conversion. Seagulls led 8–7.

 

At the same moment, Erik, who clearly did not expect Antoine to pull the ball away, kicked at nothing but the air. His left foot went flying off in one direction, his right foot in another. For a split second he was a parallel line three feet above the ground. Then he made a perfect banana-peel back-flop landing in the mud. The people around us started laughing, hooting, and cheering, all at the same time. Antoine spiked the ball in the end zone, and all the Lake Windsor players, except Erik, ran over and jumped on him. All the Lake Windsor players on the sideline, except Arthur, started jumping up and down, too.

 

Erik finally got up and walked to the sideline to get his kicking tee. His front was still clean and white, but his back was now filthy. He kicked the ball back to the Cardinals, but they fumbled it away, and that’s how it ended. Lake Windsor 8, Cypress Bay 7.

 

When we got back to the car, Mom just said, “From here, it sounded like we won.”

 

I wanted to tell her all about Erik’s banana-peel back-flop special, but Dad cut in right away. “Yes. We won on a fake kick. They sent Erik out to fake the kick for the extra point. That drew the offense to him, and it cleared the way for Antoine to run it in for two points.”

 

Mom thought for a minute. “So Erik did something that helped win the game.”

 

“Most definitely,” Dad said. “It’s not something that shows up in the stats in the newspapers. It’s not something people will remember. But it helped win the game.”

 

I thought to myself, Not remember? You’ve got to be kidding. Erik’s flying banana-peel back-flop in the mud is the one thing about this game that everybody is going to remember.

 

Dad continued talking in this manner throughout dinner, pounding home his theme to Erik—that Erik had contributed big-time to the victory, that Erik had actually made victory possible by being the decoy. I don’t think Erik was even listening. He was just sitting there, looking down, twisting his varsity ring around and around his finger.

 

After dinner Dad flipped on the TV so we could all watch the local news. The lead story on channel 2 was the revolt of the Cypress Bay fans and their brief takeover of the condemned visitors’ bleachers.

 

About two-thirds of the way through the broadcast came “The Saturday Sports Roundup.” The sports anchorman went through the professional baseball and football stuff, then the college football scores, and then the high school scores. “Lake Windsor 8, Cypress Bay 7.”

 

The broadcast ended with a feature called “The Weak in Sports.” It was a collection of sports bloopers, and guess who they saved for last.

 

The anchorman said something like, “Finally, a play that looks like it was drawn up by the Three Stooges. Watch closely.” And there it was. A ground-level view of the ball being snapped to Antoine, of Erik striding forward confidently, and Whooo! Up in the air he flew! It was even more comical than I had remembered. Erik went splashing down into the mud, but he didn’t stay there. They rewound the tape so that he popped back up, flopped again, popped back up, and flopped again. Finally, the camera turned toward the end zone to catch Antoine spiking the ball. It zoomed in on his face. Antoine was laughing and pointing his finger at the big center, who was pointing back at him.

 

When the anchorman came back on, he was cracking up. So were all the other news people. The credits started rolling, and they started saying stuff like, “Does that school have a diving team?”

and “I hear those mud baths are good for wrinkles.”

 

Dad got up and snapped off the TV. The four of us sat there in stony silence. I was thinking that if I were at somebody else’s house, we’d be rolling on the floor and laughing at this. I was thinking that kids all over Florida were rolling on the floor and laughing at this, at Erik Fisher the Flying Placekicker. But this isn’t somebody else’s house. This is the house built on the Erik Fisher Football Dream.

 

Finally, Dad said to Erik, “Hey! All you can do is laugh it off.” Mom agreed. “That’s right. You just leave it behind you. That’s all you can do. You leave it behind you, and it’s over with.”

 

The four of us got up and went our separate ways—me up to my room.

 

I stared out my window at the back wall. Forget it, Dad. Forget it, Mom. Erik can’t laugh this off. Erik can’t leave this humiliation behind him. Someone has to pay for this. I’m not sure why I’m sure. But I am. Someone has to pay for this.