Excerpt: 'The Manny'

"He likes all the boys the same, and even if he's tough, he just wants you to play."

"Well, I'm not gonna."

"Even for me?"

Dylan shook his head. He had big brown eyes and strong features, with thick dark hair that never fell just right. Dylan's mouth smiled more than his eyes ever did.

"Dylan! Hurry!" Douglas Wood, an obnoxious little kid with freckles, a crew cut, and a pudgy bottom, waddled over.

"What's wrong with you, Dylan?"

"Nothing."

"Well, then how come you're not playing?"

"I am playing."

"Well, how come you don't have your uniform on?"

"Because my mom had to talk to me. It's her fault."

Coach Robertson, angry with Douglas for leaving the warm-up and with my son for his refusal to play at all, marched toward us, pumping his elbows."Come on, kid.Time's up. Let's go." He picked up Dylan's backpack and pulled him by his hand toward the locker room. Dylan rolled his eyes back at me and lumbered along, dragging his uniform behind him on the floor. I headed for the bleachers with an ache in my heart.

Kathryn, who'd gone ahead to save me a seat in the bleachers, was now waving to me from the fifth row on the St. Henry's side. She had twin boys in Dylan's grade, as well as a daughter at our nursery school. Her twins, Louis and Nicky, were fighting over a ball, and Coach Robertson leaned down to whistle loudly into their ears to break it up. I watched Kathryn stand up to get a better look at their arguing, her long blond ponytail cascading down the back of her worn suede jacket. As I edged by twenty people to slip in next to her, she sat down and squeezed my knee.

"We made it just in time," she said, smiling.

"Tell me about it." I placed my tired head in the palms of my hands.

A few seconds later, the Wilmington Boys' School team burst through the gym doors like an invading army. I watched my tentative son hang back beside the other players. His sweaty teammates ran back and forth, all in their last fleeting years of boyhood before the gawky ravages of adolescence took hold.They rarely threw the ball to Dylan, mostly because he never made eye contact and always jogged along the periphery of the team, safe outside any commotion. His lanky build and knobby knees made his movements less than graceful, like a giraffe making short stops.

"Dylan's not playing well."

Kathryn looked at me. "None of them play well. Look at them; they can barely get the ball up into the hoop. They're not strong enough yet."

"Yeah, I guess. But he's down."

"Not always down. It's just sometimes," Kathryn answered. Barbara Fisher turned around from the row in front of me. She was wearing tight jeans, a starched white blouse with the collar turned up against gravity, and an expensive-looking fuchsia cable-knit sweater.

She was too tan and as thin as a Giacometti statue.

"Ohhh, here's the busy-bee-worky-worky-mom at a game."

I jerked back."It means a lot to me to see my son." I looked over her head toward the boys.

Barbara moved over five inches to block my view and make another point."We were talking at the school benefit meeting about how hard it must be for you, never being able to get involved in Dylan's activities."

She was so annoying.

"I like to work. But if you choose not to work outside the home, I can certainly understand. It's probably a more enjoyable lifestyle."

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