Read Left Out Online

Authors: Tim Green

Left Out

BOOK: Left Out
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DEDICATION

For my beautiful and amazing wife, Illyssa,

the kindest person I've ever known

1

The moving van pulled away from the curb, puking a charcoal cloud that spilled down onto the street. The only thing darker than the diesel exhaust was the sky, boiling now with purple clouds and the distant rumble of thunder. Amid shouts of “good-bye” from neighbors and friends, a breeze kicked up, scattering leaves and the exhaust into the yard next door.

Moving was a good thing. Landon's mom had gotten an even bigger job in an even nicer place. At least, that's how she and their dad had tried to sell yet another move to Landon and Genevieve.

Landon glanced over at his little sister, who leaned out the car window taking pictures of her teary-eyed friends on the front lawn. Good at everything, she was like Landon's opposite. Genevieve had so much power over her friends that as they waved they were careful to shout not only, “Good-bye,
Genevieve, we'll miss you!” but also, “Good-bye, Landon! Good-bye!”

Landon could only guess what Genevieve had done to get those good-byes for him. He could easily imagine her threatening that if they didn't think cheering up her brother was important, obviously they wouldn't mind if Genevieve removed them from her list of friends. Landon wouldn't allow himself to enjoy the attention. He saw the show, felt a pang of jealousy, and turned his attention to the book he was reading on his iPad.

Genevieve nudged him. With tears in her eyes, she pointed out the window. “Look, Landon. They're saying good-bye to you, too.”

Landon shrugged and went back to his book, feeling a bit guilty, but knowing that if he acknowledged
her
friends it would be too painfully obvious he had none of his own. Kip Meyers, standing there with his mom, didn't count. Landon knew Mrs. Meyers had insisted that Kip make a show of saying good-bye. Her son stood slouched, his hand held up half-heartedly, his beady eyes hidden under long, shaggy hair blown by the wind. Although he had hoodwinked his own mom and Landon's parents into thinking he was nice, Kip was among the worst of Landon's tormentors at school.

“Creep!” “Doofus!” Those were the best of the taunts Landon endured. And he had to admit that with the big earpieces he had to wear along with the thick magnetic discs stuck to the sides of his skull so he could hear some sounds, he often felt alien himself. Like the Wookiee from
Star Wars
or some other weird monster.

Whenever he could, he tried to hide the cochlear implants that were attached to his head by wearing his Cleveland Browns cap. But hats weren't allowed in school, and his mom insisted they not ask for the rules to be bent.

“Rules are made to be followed, Landon.” His mother would pucker her lips in a prissy manner. “We don't want anyone to think you need to be treated differently than anyone else. Asking for exceptions suggests ‘special needs,' and you're
not
that.”

The phrase “special needs” was a red flag in Landon's home, mostly because of his mother's guilt. Because she had refused to have Landon tested for any problem when he was a baby, at age four he was diagnosed as a special needs child. People said he would not do well in school. But Landon's mom insisted he was smart and that the doctors needed to figure out what was really wrong. They finally did, and discovered that Landon couldn't hear—he was deaf in both ears. After months, he was fitted with cochlear implants, devices that helped him to hear. But the training involved in using them forced him to begin school a year late. That's why he and his little sister were in the same class. Even though he got good grades, most people still mistook his trouble with hearing and his slightly garbled speech as a sign of mental slowness that meant he had special needs, so whenever those words came up his mother denied them with great gusts of anger.

The downside to his parents' insistence that he not be different was that Landon couldn't wear his cap in school to cover his implants, but the upside was that he could play off his mom's guilt just like other kids. That age-old strategy of
parental manipulation had created a wonderful opportunity when his mother announced that she'd gotten a great new job at SmartChips, which wasn't a high-tech company but one that made organic snacks.

When she told him and Genevieve about their next move, from Cleveland to New York, over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, Landon faked distress and sadness, but in that instant he'd decided to make a big change. His mother didn't know that, though.

Over the next few days, he played the role of a victim with heavy sighs and frowns—all with one big goal in mind. And then he made his move, asking for his mom's commitment that when they arrived in Bronxville—where she could take the train in and out of the city to work each day—he would be allowed . . . to play football.

Landon loved football. It was a visual symphony sprinkled with violence that looked like it didn't really hurt because of all that padding. Landon watched religiously: Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights. His team was the Browns, but he'd watch anyone and visualize himself in the midst of the fray. Being big was one of the most important things about football, and Landon knew he was big—really big. But what attracted him most about football was that its players were heroes, universally beloved by the cities in which they played and sometimes nationwide. Landon craved that same universal acceptance and felt sure his goal of being liked would be achieved by becoming part of his own football team.

As she had every time he'd brought up the idea of playing football in the past, his mom argued again about the dangers
of the sport. But Landon insisted that he'd do what she wanted and stop sulking about the move,
if
she would let him do what he wanted when they got to their new home. He tried to reassure her by saying, “Mom, look at me, I'm huge. I'll be great on the line.”

“Well,” she finally said, “you and your father have tired me out. I don't know if it's even possible with your implants, but if a doctor says it
is
, then I don't see why not.”

His mother now sat ramrod straight in the driver's seat, ready for action and adventure. Laura, Genevieve's best friend, kept waving good-bye to Genevieve, and her mother, Mrs. Meyers, leaned in through the window with one arm on the roof of the car. As if on cue, a crack of lightning split the sky and the girls shrieked and headed for the garage overhang. The wind whipped even harder.

“Well, Gina.” Mrs. Meyers leaned in for a good-bye hug and then glanced up at the sky. “You and Forrest timed it perfectly, getting out of here in front of this storm.”

Landon's mom angled her head to assess the weather up through the windshield.

“Actually,” she said, “it looks like we're heading straight into it.”

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