Miles Spagoski jogged the four blocks to his family’s bowling center, shivering and imagining ways he might die--a frozen tree limb could crack off and land on his head, a distracted driver fiddling with a car’s heating controls could swerve onto the sidewalk and plow him flat, or, if he was outside long enough, plain old hypothermia could be the end of his short, sad story.
But the moment Miles entered Buckington Bowl, his worries melted away like snowflakes on a warm palm. Miles relaxed, as much as someone like him could relax, onto a stool behind the front counter and kicked off his worn sneakers.
He loved his family’s bowling center first thing in the morning, before his dad put the oldies rock station on to play through the crackly speaker system, before pins crashed on lanes 1 through 48, before video games near the snack counter beeped and blinked and beckoned. Before--
“Hey, Spagoski!” Randall Fleming yelled through the thick glass doors, startling Miles. Backpack slung over one shoulder, face pressed against the glass where the painted words read “No gum allowed in this building,” Randall made smudges with his mouth and pounded the door with a gloved fist. “Open up. My snot’s freezing.”
Miles unlocked the automatic doors for his best friend to slip through. He’d tried to make Randall call him by his first name, but there were five other Mileses in their grade, so Randall insisted on “Spagoski” for specificity. He was stubborn like that.
“Why didn’t you open up sooner?” Randall blinked, blinked, blinked. “My eyeballs were turning into ice cubes out there.”
“It’s not that cold.” Miles reached behind the counter and grabbed Windex and a rag. “Why’d you have to slobber all over the door? You know I have to clean that.”
Randall shrugged. Miles went outside in his socks to quickly wipe the smudges off the glass, then darted back in, shivering again. “It’s fr-fr-freezing! Feels like the temperature dropped twenty degrees since I got here.”
“Told you,” Randall said, stamping his brand-new sneakers, even though there wasn’t any snow on the ground. “They should cancel school today and give us one more day of winter vacation.”
Miles imagined spending the whole day bowling. He’d take his first break at lunch when his dad started grilling in the bowling center’s kitchen. And when Miles’s arm got sore from rolling so many strikes, he’d hang out with the regulars, like Stick, who’d teach him the finer points of playing pool so Miles could hustle kids at the pool table as well as on the lanes, and Tyler, the mechanic, who would take him back behind the lanes and let him help fix things when they broke down, which was often. It would be a perfect day. “They should cancel school for the rest of winter,” Miles said. “We could bowl like eight games a day every day. Imagine how high our averages would get.”
“They should cancel that dumb school dance.” Randall kicked at nothing. “Did you see the way Marcus Lopez asked Lacey Smith to the dance before break? That idiot hid a dozen roses in her locker and then had Mr. Cedeno ask her for him over the morning announcements.”
“Yeah, that was crazy,” Miles said. “What if she said no?”
“Right. But of course she said yes. Way to raise the bar for the rest of us, Marcus.”
Both boys laughed, but Miles wasn’t laughing on the inside. He knew the dumb dance was another thing he’d worry about. Would he find someone to ask? How would he ask her in a big way without embarrassing himself? Would she say yes? He didn’t have the popularity power of Marcus Lopez. And he didn’t even like dancing. You could get bumped into, stepped on, rejected, made fun of. Too much unpredictability. Miles liked bowling, where things made sense. You rolled a heavy ball down a wooden lane in an attempt to knock over ten pins. Simple. Fun. Predictable. Nothing terrible ever happened in bowling. Even the dreaded gutter ball wasn’t the end of the world. There was always the next roll or the next game. Always a chance for a do-over.
If only life were more like bowling.
Miles ducked behind the counter, put the Windex away, and switched on lane 48. He handed Randall a pair of size 11 bowling shoes, marveling at how much bigger Randall’s feet were than his own. Miles grabbed the handle of his black wheeled bowling bag. “You’re lucky you can ask Tate,” Miles said. “I can’t think of one girl at Buckington Middle who’d want to go with me.”
“Aw. Come on.” Randall flung his arm around Miles’s shoulders and squeezed. “There’s got to be one girl who’s desperate enough to go with you, Spagoski. You know, someone with really bad vision who wouldn’t realize how ugly you are.”
Miles wriggled out of Randall’s grip. He decided to think about bowling, not girls, not the dumb dance and definitely not Randall’s unfunny comment. He thought if he did everything right this morning, maybe he’d bowl his first perfect game.
Three hundred beautiful points. Twelve gorgeous strikes in a row.
His older sister, Mercedes, once told him some nine-year-old girl in Florida bowled a perfect game in league play. Miles figured if a nine-year-old could do it, he should be able to do it, too. He was three years older than that girl and probably had a lot more bowling experience, since his grandfather owned Buckington Bowl and his parents worked there.
But in all his years of playing, Miles had never bowled a perfect game.
If you believe in yourself and work hard enough, you can do anything, Miles’s grandmother, Bubbie Louise, used to say. Except bowl a 301. Even Superman can’t do that, bubeleh . . . and he’s got those cute tights and all.
Miles still missed Bubbie Louise, even though she died a year ago, shortly after his eleventh birthday. Miles knew he should be done missing her by now, but he couldn’t help how he felt.
“I’m going to kick your bowling butt, Spagoski,” Randall said as they walked toward lane 48.
Miles shook his head. “Yeah, well, Grandpop Billy gave me a new bowling ball for Chanukah, so I’m going to kick your butt today, Rand.” Miles stretched his leg behind Randall to literally kick him in the butt, but since Randall was so much taller, Miles managed only a weak tap on the back of Randall’s left thigh.
Miles made a mental note to himself: Grow.
Copyright © 2018 by Donna Gephart. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.