Chapter One Game On
Skating is serious business in my family. My mom and dad can glide backward, spin in circles, bop to the music. They said the roller rink was the place to be when they were growing up. They love to tell people they met at a spot called Spinning Wheels back in their hometown of Pittsburgh. I know. Kinda corny, but it makes me smile.
Me? I like skating okay. But bike riding, that’s my thing. Coasting down a hill with the wind in my face, pumping my legs as I jet down a trail—I’m with that any day. That’s why I sighed at first when my teacher, Miss Taylor, said that our next field trip was going to the rink.
My boy RJ caught me.
“What’s wrong, Miles?” he whispered.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just hoped we were going someplace different.”
All around me on the orange-and-blue carpet, my friends cheesed. Jada, Lena, and Simone nudged one another. Carson whispered to Gabi. Soon, our class rumbled with energy like a crowd getting hyped before a big game.
Fourth grade already had more field trips than third. I guess skating wasn’t so bad.
“Class, class,” Miss Taylor said to settle everyone down.
“Yes, yes,” we answered.
“I know you’re excited. Let’s go over the details. We’re not going to just any skating rink. We’re going ice-skating. Did you know that skating can teach you a lot about physics?”
Did Miss Taylor say physics? I sat up straight. Now we were talking. If there was something I liked as much as riding bikes, it was science and technology. Rock collecting, doing experiments with my chemistry set, building robots, and flying drones. Maybe this field trip would be better than I thought.
“Has anyone gone ice-skating before?” Miss Taylor asked.
“Gabi and I are on hockey teams,” Carson said.
My friend Jada raised her hand.
“I went ice-skating with my cousins when we were visiting family in New York City,” she said. “I fell a few times, but I got it by the end.”
Lena took ice-skating lessons. RJ had gone before, too. I wondered why I’d never tried it. As my friends shared what it was like, it sounded kinda tricky. But I could roller-skate and was pretty good at picking up new things. I wasn’t sweating it. How hard could it be?
At recess, RJ and I headed for kickball with Gabi and Kyla. The girls had their own conversation going. RJ put his hand on my shoulder.
“Miles, you got me beat in most sports,” he said. “I’m so glad I have one up on you.”
“What are you talking about? It’s not a competition.”
“I’m talking about ice-skating,” he said. “Finally, finally, I know how to do something you haven’t tried.”
I shrugged. If that made him feel good, cool.
“You’re definitely gonna wipe out at least once,” he said.
Made sense that I might fall as I learned, but the way he said it made me roll my eyes.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there to help you up.”
Gabi and Kyla grew quiet like our conversation just got interesting. I didn’t know why RJ was making a big deal out of this, but I wasn’t going to let him talk trash.
“It may be my first time, but I don’t know if I’ll be falling. I can skate.”
“You sure about that?” he said. “How about a bet?”
Bet? It was like that word echoed through the playground and caught everyone’s attention. Bet. Bet. Bet. I heard whispering and felt stares on my back.
“If you skate without falling, I’ll put a ‘Miles is the man’ sign on my backpack. If you fall, you have to put one on yours saying that I am.”
RJ was my friend, but he loved competition. Too much sometimes. This whole thing was silly—I just wanted to learn about physics and have some fun. But now that everybody was listening, I was on the spot.
“Bet,” I agreed.
The pressure was on. Chapter Two Looking Like Me
When the school bus pulled up to my stop, I bumped fists with RJ and hopped off. I could see Nana down
the block weeding in the front of our house. She wiped her glistening face with her arm and smiled when she spotted me. The silver in her locs shone in the sunlight.
“There’s my boy,” she said when I bent down and kissed her cheek. “How was your day?”
“It was pretty good,” I said. “I aced a test and found out we’re going on an ice-skating field trip.”
“Sounds fun,” she said. “I did some skating in my day.”
“Yes, sir. Don’t sound so shocked. Your nana knows a few things,” she said, winking. “Got a lot of homework?”
“Already did it. I’ll take my backpack in and come out and help.”
I don’t know why I was surprised that Nana could ice-skate. Just when I thought I knew everything about her, she revealed something else. Like the time she pointed herself out as an extra in a movie we were watching. Or when she told us about the time she had filled in for a famous singer when his bus didn’t make it to the club on time.
Inside, her paintings gave clues about her life. A brown girl standing behind a microphone onstage. People of all ages protesting with picket signs raised high. A picture of my granddad, who passed away when I was little, in an air force uniform. A portrait of our family—Momma, Dad, Nana, and me—holding hands around the dinner table. That was my favorite.
Sometimes I wished there was another kid in the picture with us. Don’t get me wrong—being an only child had perks. No fights over what to watch on TV or what video games to play. No battling for attention. But some days, I missed having someone my age to hang with, celebrate holidays, and share secrets. I guess that’s why I loved being around my friends so much.
I ran upstairs to my room, dropped off my backpack, and changed into an old T-shirt and sweats. I grabbed some garden gloves and headed outside.
“I thought you got lost,” Nana said without looking up. I could hear the smile in her voice.
I kneeled next to her in the dirt and got busy. I had to use both hands to pull out a stubborn patch of leafy plants. The roots ran deep.
“Tell me about ice-skating,” I said.
“That was a long time ago, honey. Feels like another life. On TV, I never saw ice-skaters who looked like us with Olympic medals. I set it in my mind that I would change that. I practiced and got pretty good, but there was a lot I wanted to do. Art and music ended up calling to me more.”
I hadn’t thought about ice-skating being something that could make a difference. That was cool. For a minute, I thought about telling Nana about RJ’s bet. But I knew what she would say. Her voice rang out in my head: We taught you better than to follow along with something you don’t feel good about. You should have set him straight.
Nana and I worked side by side until the weeds were out of the ground and in the lawn bag.
“We can mulch next week,” she said, dusting off her pants as she stood. “Now it’s time to get washed up. We smell like outside.” I headed upstairs to take a shower and change my clothes. My parents were on their way home with dinner. Fridays were our eating-out days. They both worked at the university, so sometimes they drove to work together.
I came down just as they were coming in.
“Hey, Miles,” Momma said, giving me a hug. Dad pulled me into one, too, after setting the bags of food on the table. The savory smell made my stomach grumble. I read the name of the restaurant on the bags: Catch of the Sea. Looked like we were having fish tonight.
I washed my hands and set the dining room table so we could all eat together. Nana blessed the food, and we dug in.
“Anything new at school?” Momma asked.
“Nothing much,” I said. “We’re going ice-skating for a field trip next week.”
“Ice-skating, huh?” Dad said. “Maybe you’ll get into it and want to try hockey like my man Willie O’Ree.”
Uh-oh. Why did I say that? Dad was a Black history professor and was famous for his homework assignments.
“Sounds like you need to hit the books, son,” he said. “You know I don’t just give out answers. That’s too easy.”
“Look it up on the computer after dinner,” Momma said. She was a techie. “Let us know what you find out.”
Why couldn’t Dad just tell me? Now, I had to wait to find out who Willie O’Ree was. As soon as I finished eating, I put my plate in the sink and headed for the stairs.
“Aren’t you forgetting something, Miles?” Momma said.
She glanced at the table.
Right. I had to help clean up. When I was done, I made a beeline for my room to look up Willie O’Ree online. His picture came up first. He reminded me a little of Nana’s brother, my uncle Ray. I clicked on one of the articles. Willie O’Ree was the first Black hockey player in the National Hockey League. They called him the “Jackie Robinson” of ice hockey, because they both broke racial barriers. Over his career in the minor leagues and NHL, he dealt with name-calling, racist taunts, people doing horrible things like spitting at him, throwing drinks at him, and starting fights with him, but he never gave up. I nodded and wrote his name in the notebook I fill with facts about important events and people. Willie O’Ree. That was someone I would remember.
Before getting up, I heard a ding. It was an invite from RJ, Jada, and Gabi to play a video game. Before joining them, I saw I had a private message from RJ, too.
“Hope you’re getting my sign ready,” it said.
I sighed. He never let up. Somebody needed to teach RJ a lesson. Maybe it would be me.
Copyright © 2022 by Kelly Starling Lyons; Illustrated by Wayne Spencer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.