Danny went to his first Cubs game when he was in diapers.
The family took two cars in case someone had to leave early with Danny, but what actually happened was that Jake (who was six) got sick after sneaking too much ice cream and Wilson (who was eight) threw a tantrum, Dad took them home in the middle of the fourth inning, and Danny slept in his mom's lap for the whole game, right through the Cubs' win in extra innings.
It was one of Mom's favorite stories. It was one of Danny's favorites as he got older, too, because he got to lord it over Jake and Wilson for being total loser wusses. Mom said she thought that was when he caught the baseball bug — hearing Harry Caray's voice filter into his dreaming mind with the roar of the crowd and the crack of the bat.
Dad said he thought Danny never stood a chance, since Wilson and Jake only had room in their hearts for college football and Mom needed a disciple.
Danny preferred Mom's explanation. He thought it was the real one.
Danny loved summers the most. That was when they pulled the tent out of the garage and set it up in the backyard, and they dug out the battery-powered radio that Mom bought when she was in high school. They always invited Dad and Wilson and Jake. Danny's brothers just wanted to watch cartoons or wrestle; Dad would raise the flap and come in for a few minutes, but he didn't get it the way that Danny and his mom did, which was okay, because Dad understood Star Trek and Mom seriously didn’t.
Danny never loved his mom more than when they left the flap open and laid on their backs, half in the tent and half out of it. Mom would spread a blanket across the wet grass and they'd yell and roll around — with happiness or rage, depending on the call reported by the scratchy voices of the announcers — and make fun of the umpires. During commercial breaks, they turned down the volume of ads for local used car dealerships so that Mom could point out all the star patterns she knew. She didn't know a lot, so Danny had them all memorized by the time he was nine, but he made her go through them over and over again anyway — the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Orion's Belt, and the one that they both thought looked like a big clown shoe.
The crickets would make their low, steady buzz all night, and Mrs. Peebles usually showed up after killing a few chipmunks or mice so she could wind around their legs in the tent. If the game went into extra innings, Dad would come out to say it was time for bed. They'd turn down the radio and crawl into the tent with it, and Mom usually let Danny stay up to listen to the whole thing, both of them shushing each other when the disgusted yelling or the cheering started to get too loud and Dad flickered the back porch light to tell them he knew they were still up.
When it was over, they did a detailed post-game breakdown, going over all the best and worst plays. If Mrs. Peebles was outside, she meowed at the flap until they let her in, and then she crawled as far down Danny's sleeping bag as she could go. Sometimes he'd wake up and find her sleeping on his face. It was annoying but kind of nice; he liked knowing she was there, curled up with him. There was something comforting about his mom’s presence, too, hearing her breathing in the dark and knowing he could reach out if he needed her.
In the morning, before he got too big for it, Mom carried him inside and tucked him into bed when she went to work, and Danny fell asleep again until Jake ran in yelling and sat on his chest.
Danny loved summer.
Summer meant rec camp instead of being stuffed into a desk; it meant weekend trips to the lake and chasing his brothers around the yard while Dad yelled to “at least put shoes on, Jesus!” Most importantly, summer meant rec league baseball and Mom coaching his t-ball team. As much as Danny loved the game — way more than the kids who sat in the outfield and picked dandelions — what he mostly remembered about the t-ball years, later, was that they were sponsored by the local dairy freeze and they got to have ice cream after every game, win or lose.
Technically no one won or lost, because there was no official score, but Danny always kept score in his head.
When Danny was in fourth grade, two important things happened. The Arizona Diamondbacks made it to the World Series for the first time ever (which Danny could appreciate as a historic event even though he wasn’t a D-backs fan), and he brought a note home from Ms. Sun saying that birthday treats could no longer contain nuts.
"Why?" Danny asked his dad, hands balled into fists at his sides.
"I didn't know there's a new kid in your class this year," said Dad absently, flipping through the rest of the papers in Danny's folder. Danny had been excited for Dad to see the 90% he got on his spelling test, but that was unimportant in the face of the tragic news that he couldn't bring in Dad's famous peanut butter cupcakes for his birthday.
"Yeah," Danny said. He shifted from foot to foot, waiting for an answer he knew wasn’t gonna come because Dad was almost worse about getting distracted than Danny was. He could hear his brothers yelling out back. "He's got a funny name. Why can't we have cupcakes?"
"Somebody's really allergic to peanuts," said Dad. He looked up and pushed the kitchen window open. "Hey!" he shouted. "Guys! Don't kill each other!"
Jake and Wilson kept fighting.
Dad sighed. "Your brothers," he said. "It's a good thing you got all the brains in the family, huh?" He shoved the brim of Danny's cap down over his eyes; Danny yelled and pushed it back up again.
"What about my birthday?"
"We'll make anything else you want, okay? Hey, look at this test, bud! Here's one for the fridge. Wait til your m— JACOB FRANCIS!"
Danny glared at the refrigerator.
Gronks was weird. His name was Gronks and his family was from Kentucky and his mom hadn't moved with them and he didn't talk, except for when Ms. Sun called on him, and then he just said, "I don't know" a lot. He wore a Power Rangers sweater even though they were way too old for Power Rangers. He was really bad at kickball and he looked happy when it was raining too hard to have recess outside, and not because it meant he got to play Game Boy Advance or anything — he just sat at his desk and doodled all over his folder.
Danny saw Jennifer try to talk to Gronks one day, when she leaned over to ask for a pencil, but he just handed her the pencil and then huddled into his turtleneck. He was weird and he didn’t talk and he hated peanut butter, and that was enough for everybody. They left him alone.
Could weird people like cool stuff, though? That was the question on Danny's mind after he got a look at Gronks's folder one day during indoor recess. It was covered in explosions and ghosts and sketch after sketch of the Starfleet insignia from Star Trek, like the badge that Captain Picard hit when he wanted to be beamed up to the Enterprise.
That night, Danny waited til the seventh inning stretch to ask his mom what it meant when someone was allergic to peanuts. She muted the TV, but the closed captioning kept scrolling, making it look like Joe Buck was talking about “nimble of butters worked” instead of “number of batters walked.” The closed captioning stank.
"It's no joke," Mom said. "If someone's seriously allergic, their throat can close up."
He made a face at his knees. "Why can't they just not eat peanuts?"
Mom reached for the popcorn and shot him a look. "Is this about the birthday thing again? Danno, we're not killing one of your classmates with cupcakes."
Danny jumped. He asked Mom because he knew she'd be honest, but that was scary. "He would die?" he asked.
"It’s possible, if people aren't careful with his food," said Mom, and then a Diamondback hit a long, long ball to center field and they threw popcorn everywhere in the rush to un-mute the TV.
Danny thought about it when he went to bed. Usually he would have stared at the posters taped to his ceiling and run through Randy Johnson’s shut-out complete game and whatever else crossed his mind til he felt sleepy, but instead, he couldn’t stop wondering about the weird new kid. Was he weird? He liked cool stuff, maybe; what if he liked Star Trek and believed in ghosts? Maybe he was quiet because he was scared of the school being haunted. Maybe he was scared to talk to everybody because Sal and a few others were still sneaking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch.
That was probably why he always sat alone unless the teacher on duty stepped in, Danny suddenly thought. The realization hit like a lightning bolt. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to talk to anybody — it was because if he got near Sal stuffing his face, he could die.
The next day, Danny sat down at Gronks's empty lunch table.
"Hi," he said. "I've got Gushers; wanna trade?"
Gronks looked surprised and kind of nervous, peering at him over the top of his glasses. ELIJAH!! was spelled out with star stickers across the top of his plastic lunch box, and someone had written GRONKOWSKI in Sharpie on the handle.
"There's no peanuts, I looked," Danny assured him. He unzipped his lunch box and pulled out his fruit snacks and the Tupperware with his ham sandwich.
"Um," said Gronks, finally. "I have Fruit by the Foot."
He furrowed his eyebrows, carefully considering the deal. “What flavor?”
“Red,” he said, like Danny was stupid. It was a stupid question — it was always red — so Danny laughed. Gronks’s expression went startled, and then he began to smile.
Danny held out his package of Gushers. Gronks took it between two careful fingers and solemnly passed him the Fruit by the Foot. Danny started unrolling his prize. “I liked your folder,” he said. “Do you like Star Trek?”
His face lit up. “The original is my favorite, but Deep Space Nine’s okay!” he said. “I want to draw the away teams, like they look in the comic books.”
“There are comic books??” Danny asked, awed.
“Yeah.” Gronks’s little smile got bigger when Danny smiled back, and then he laughed when Danny let Fruit by the Foot hang out of his mouth like a tongue.
After school, Danny pulled Gronks over to Jake in the schoolyard and informed Jake that Danny would be going to the Gronks house to see Star Trek comic books from the 1970s. Jake got way less grumpy about it when he saw that Gronks had a sister his age and she was waiting to pick up her brother, too.
“Whatever,” said Gronks’s sister Becky, when Jake and Danny stood in front of her. “Eli, let’s go already.”
It took Danny a second to realize that she was talking to Gronks, whose name probably wasn’t actually Gronks, which was a thing that they’d only started calling him because nobody could remember how to say his last name.
Eli smiled shyly at him and beckoned him along, and the four of them walked to Eli and Becky’s house. Becky was scary, Danny had decided pretty much right away; she was wearing black lipstick and huge boots that made her even taller than she already was, and she seemed really mad. Listening to Jake try to impress her was funny, though. Eli thought so too.
Something about Eli and Becky’s house seemed really familiar, and Danny didn’t understand why until they were standing in Eli’s room (which was awesome; he had posters from all of the classic Star Trek movies, and a PlayStation 2 and a glow-in-the-dark map, and tons of books and action figures, so much that Danny ran from cool thing to cool thing to check it all out). While Eli pulled a box out from under his bed, Danny peered out the window. The backyard was small and separated by a wooden fence from another backyard, one with a shed and a swingset and a huge oak tree with a tire swing, and...
“Hey,” he blurted, “that’s my house!”
“What?” said Eli, still under the bed.
“That’s my room!” When Eli came up to kneel on the bed beside him, his hair dusty, Danny pointed at the second-story window with the blue curtains. “You live in the house behind us!”
Eli looked out the window, and then he scrambled back under the bed and came out with a flashlight; a huge one, like the one that Dad kept in the basement for when the power went out during blizzards. Eli switched it on and held it up to the window, and then the prism hanging in Danny’s window reflected back at them. They both laughed.
“We could do morse code,” Eli said, which was like something from the Hardy Boys and was the best idea ever.
They tried it that night. It completely worked, as Danny grinned and flashed his light on and off, watching the small light in Eli's window do the same, and also completely didn’t work, because neither of them knew morse code.
They would Google it, they decided the next morning at school.
Mom really taught Danny to play baseball when he graduated past t-ball into the real thing: little league. They spent long hours playing catch in the backyard, strengthening Danny's arm (Mom bragged at her book club meetings that he could throw a runner out at third from right field) and working on his batting stance. There were try-outs in the middle school gym and the coach from the Rockies drafted him, which meant he got outfitted with an official red uniform, knee socks and cleats and all.
Danny loved baseball for a lot of reasons — the strategy, the tension, the excitement, hitting stuff with bats — but maybe most of all for the total focus that it required. If he zoned out or his mind wandered while he was in right field, he could wind up with a broken nose from a line drive. It was even more dangerous when he was behind the plate, where inattention meant the difference between ducking safely and getting a bat to the facemask.
It was easy to focus on baseball; there was something soothing about the repetition of throw-and-catch, throw-and-catch, when he was playing with Mom or warming up at practice. The ball thumped into the webbing of his glove, he fished it out; he turned and threw it back with a step forward and a loose arm, the ball flying in a long, lazy arc, and then it started all over again. It was a series of regular, predictable steps, allowing him to turn off his brain and rely on pure athleticism. Danny loved it.
Mom tried to teach him to pitch. He wanted to, because pitching was awesome and Mom pitched when she played softball as a girl, but Danny was really bad at it. Even in their backyard, he kept hitting the Marcuccis' fence, and the shed, and Dad's vegetable garden, and sometimes his brothers, instead of the catcher's mitt.
Coach Hemingway put him in as pitcher once, just to try it, and then Danny hit three out of the seven batters he faced and walked the other four, and Coach called a time-out so Danny could put the catcher's gear on and trudge back behind the plate before the inning was even over.
"You can throw a runner out at first, but you can't get a ball across the plate without breaking the batter's face or throwing it into the woods," laughed Jake after the game, and Danny said "SHUT UP" with a rush of hot furious shame and launched himself at him, and Mom broke it up by grabbing the backs of their shirts.
"Everybody has their strengths," Mom said, later that night, while the Cubs were in a rain delay and Danny was lying in the tent with his arms folded across his chest.
"I know," he said, mulish.
"You're a great catcher, Danno. You've got a really good eye at the plate and you wait til the right pitch comes. Nobody else on your team has your patience."
"I wanted to pitch," he said. He wanted to be like Greg Maddux. He wanted to be the hero.
"I know," said Mom. "But you've got other strengths. There's no shame in that."
"I guess," said Danny, and then the game came back on, and he shied away when his mom tried to stroke his hair. He was getting way too old for that stuff.
Eli came to the next game with their friend Mo. The two of them showed up on their bikes and when Danny went up to bat, he saw them waving glittery signs (DANNY FOR PREZ and #29, DANNY 'SLUGGER' FRANCIS!!!!) and heard them cheering. Even the announcer stopped making out with his girlfriend (everybody knew what Carey Peabody’s brother was doing in the booth between calls) long enough to talk about them.
"Looks like Francis brought a fan club," he said, after announcing Danny's name. Everyone laughed — both teams, the crowd of families — but Danny didn't care; he grinned the whole way out to the plate, so wide it felt like his face might split.
Mo was chanting, "Danny, Danny, he's our man, if he can't do it, nobody can!" while his dad yelled, "C'mon, Danno!" and spectators and teammates clapped.
Danny dug his cleats into the two grooves in the dirt at home plate. He raised the bat and then ran through his mental checklist: back elbow up, chin down, weight on right leg, choke up on the bat, stare at the pitcher like you’re Yogi Bear and he’s a picnic basket.
The skinny pitcher looked twitchy, shaking off three signs from the catcher before finally winding up. The wall of sound from the spectators got even louder, and Danny doubled down on his checklist to prevent distraction: elbow up, chin down, lean back, choke up, don’t look away.
"Go Danny!" Eli called, his voice cutting through the chaos as the pitcher threw, and Danny stepped in and swung. He knew it was good the second he hit it — the bat sang smooth and sweet on the follow-through, no ugly tok! sound or painful jarring in his hands. He didn't wait to see where that bullet went. He dropped the bat at the end of his swing and sprinted for first base with what felt like a thousand screaming fans cheering him on.
When he was standing on third base in a cloud of dust, wiping dirt from his slide off his pant leg and sock, Danny beamed and raised his fists at his crowd of admirers.
After the game, and the sportsmanship high-fives with the losing team, he jogged over to the fence just outside the dugout. Mo and Eli were waiting, grinning, still clutching their signs.
"Danny, that was awesome," Mo declared, and she reached across the fence and hugged him. Several voices in the dugout went ooooooh!; Danny ignored them. Mo was tall and pretty with a long black ponytail that swished when she walked, and she was the best player in neighborhood games of pick-up soccer — but she was kind of out there, and anyway, Danny was pretty sure Eli had a thing for her, and liking somebody your best friend liked was against all the rules of being best friends.
Besides, Mo was a White Sox fan.
"You guys are awesome!" Danny said.
"Your mom said it was gonna be a good game," said Mo, patting him on the back as she released him. He and Eli looked at each other for a minute before Eli laughed, then Danny laughed, and then they quickly hugged over the fence too.
"You were so awesome," Eli said, and Mo punched him in the shoulder. Danny didn't know what was happening there but Eli turned kind of red and shoulder-checked her back, and he figured he'd better say something before Eli completely embarrassed himself.
"I can't believe you guys made signs," he said.
"Eli said we had to," said Mo.
"All good fan clubs have signs," Eli said loyally.
They came out for post-game ice cream with the team. Half the starting line-up violently crawled all over each other to try to sit next to Mo, who twirled her ponytail between two fingers and destroyed them all with smiles over her ice cream cone.
Danny looked sympathetically at Eli, wedged into the plastic bench between Danny and the armrest, as Mo's big laugh rang out behind him. Eli froze with a spoonful of Peppermint Stick hovering in front of his mouth, and said, "What?" nervously.
Danny made an expectant face, raising his eyebrows and jerking his head in the general direction of the scene behind him, where Mo was holding court over her admirers.
Eli jerked in alarm. "Is there a bee?" he demanded, starting to wiggle but trapped between the bench and Danny's hip.
"What? No," said Danny. He lowered his voice. "Mo."
He stopped trying to escape the bench. "Oh," he said, and then he made a face. "Yeah, it's gross." A balled-up napkin bounced off his head; Mo, as usual, had eyes (in this case, ears?) in the back of her head.
Danny glanced over his shoulder but she was already laughing at a couple of the drooling infielders again. "So, you're not...?" Eli stared at him blankly, ice cream melting off his spoon, and Danny said, "Never mind."
Danny wished it could be baseball time all year but since the season only lasted from March til August, he played soccer in the fall. He wasn't the best player — he'd never make an all-star team the way he did every summer in little league — but he generally did okay. He made up for his not-great speed or skills with total willingness to do whatever the coach asked, including warming the bench a lot.
He didn't love soccer the way he loved baseball. The rules didn't make as much sense to him, and power didn't mean the same thing as it did in a game where he could drive deep for home runs and block the plate against incoming baserunners. But it was a cool way to spend the fall, and he liked all of his teammates, except for Harrison, who was ... Harrison.
There was a loud burst of cheering and he blinked back to paying attention to the game. Zach had almost scored a goal, but it'd bounced off the Red Team goalie's fingertips.
"AW, COME ON!" Danny yelled, commiserating, along with the other players on the bench. Zach was standing on the pitch with his hands on his head, looking surprised.
"Time out! Guys, bring it in!" yelled Coach Hoffstader, waving them all off the field, and they came sprinting in.
Mo spit out her mouthguard. "They're killing us, Coach!" she said fiercely.
"Nobody's killing anybody," said Coach placidly, used to dealing with Mo's intensity; "we are playing for fun, Moufina, and we're just gonna try some substitutions here so everybody gets a chance to play. Ahmed, you're in for Alex; Brendon, switch with Chantal." She looked up and down the bench, and Danny made himself sit up straighter when her eyes stopped on him. "Danny," she said, "you're substituting for Moufina."
Mo made a disgusted noise (one that Danny couldn't blame her for — nobody liked being pulled out, especially Mo), but Coach talked over her. "Okay, now everybody get out there and have some fun!" she yelled, and they all yelled, "Goooo Blue Team!" together and ran back onto the field.
Danny hopped up and jogged off with them, shooting Mo a yo! sorry! look as he went. She glared at him, because she was Mo. He tried to ignore it as he took up his position in the goal.
When the ref blew the whistle, a Red Team player threw the ball back in and the game devolved into immediate chaos, everybody running around chasing the ball in a big pack while the crowd of parents and friends yelled. The action was down at the other end of the field, keeping the opposing goalie on her toes, so Danny felt safe in glancing at the sidelines. Mo was still standing, her arms folded over her chest, as she argued with Coach Hoffstader. He winced and tried to work some moisture back into his guilty dry mouth. Mo had to learn to not be a crappy sport, he reminded himself, and it wasn't his fault Coach had put him in at goal.
It still didn't feel great, though, so he looked at the stands where everybody was watching the players run around the opposite goal. Danny saw Eli standing on the top bench, bouncing up and down with excitement. Danny's dad was up there somewhere, lost in a sea of parents, and he felt another sharp pang of guilt. He hadn't shown his dad his report card yet. One of the good things about Jake being in high school was that they didn't get their grades at the same time anymore, so Danny had a little extra time to figure out how to break the news that he was getting D's in social studies and math.
It was really hard sitting in a desk all day, expected to hold perfectly still and do nothing but listen. They did experiments and games and lots of different stuff in his other classes, so he mostly got by with B's and one or two C's, but math and social studies were the worst. Danny would stare at Mrs. Meyer while she droned about the political process in America and he'd start to wonder about what happened to the booths with patriotic curtains when people weren't voting, and then he'd think about how old he was going to be when he got to vote for the first time, and then he would try to run through the hot lunch schedule in his head to remember whether today was sloppy joe day, and then he'd consider strategies for beating the hard level in Katamari Damarcy, and suddenly he'd realize that Mrs. Meyer had been sounding like a Charlie Brown teacher, making nothing but trumpeting wah-wah-wah-wah sounds, for the last twenty minutes.
It wasn't that he wasn't trying — he was, he was trying really hard! But he couldn't pay attention to something that boring.
He kind of couldn't pay attention in general. Mom called him her scatter-boy, which was a pretty accurate nickname. When he got excited, sometimes it took somebody a while to figure out what he'd been talking about at first, because — so, if he was talking about the series finale of Enterprise and how much it sucked, he would start out by saying how Captain Archer was no Picard or Sisko, and then he'd remember that Porthos the beagle did something cool, and how bad he'd wanted a beagle when he was like seven, and how did beagles keep their ears out of their food bowls? and whoever he was talking to would have to walk him back, tangential step by tangential step, to get to where he'd started, because Danny couldn’t always remember. Eli and Aunt Kayleigh especially were really good at following his leaps and getting him back to what he'd originally been talking about without making Danny feel stupid or embarrassed. It was awesome.
Danny looked up into the stands.
The soccer ball hit him in the side of the face.
Later, after the trip to the emergency room and the explaining and the truth about his report card, Danny sat on the front steps with an ice pack and with Dad, and mostly nodded a lot while Dad said stuff about talking to the counselor and helping him finish homework assignments, and getting tested for ADD. Dad said it wouldn’t be a bad thing and the family wanted to make sure they were doing everything to help him that they could, and that they loved him very much no matter what.
Danny was 12, which was probably too old to hide your face in your dad’s shoulder and still be cool, but he leaned over and did it anyway.
On a Friday night in eighth grade, Eli flickered a flashlight SOS at Danny’s window, then followed it up with CHRISTMAS and BECKY??.
On Saturday, they pestered Wilson into driving them to the mall.
“What about this?” Danny asked, holding a girl-sized ‘VOTE FOR PEDRO’ T-shirt up against his own chest. “Everybody loves Napoleon Dynamite.”
Eli grimaced at him across the clothing rack, and Danny was pretty sure he caught the sales clerk rolling her eyes behind the counter. “Not everybody,” he said, flicking through T-shirts with clicks of the hangers. “Definitely not Becky.”
Danny shifted his weight and tried not to feel too weird about the fact that he was standing in a Hot Topic and they were broadcasting some kind of screaming over the sound system. There was overwhelming dissonance between what Hot Topic was playing and the distant sounds of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” coming from the rest of the mall. “What does your sister like?”
“Nothing,” Eli said darkly. “No, not nothing — anger, creepy-cute stuff, being the worst.” With every suggestion, he loudly flicked a hanger.
“So...” A display caught Danny’s eye. “Tim Burton movies?”
Eli’s head rose above the rack of T-shirts so suddenly that he looked like something out of Whack-a-Mole (something out of Whack-a-Mole wearing glasses and a hat with ear flaps). Danny laughed and pointed to the big Corpse Bride display in the front window. “YES,” said Eli, and in short order, they left the store with another bag added to their haul.
“Who’s left on your list?” Eli asked as they ducked around a group of moms with strollers.
“Just Wilson,” said Danny. No matter how hard Danny tried to avoid the shoppers passing them, he was getting buffeted by shopping bags from all directions. The mall on the weekend before Christmas was bad news bears. They passed the incredible cloud of perfume/cologne exploding out of Abercrombie & Fitch, and he wrinkled his nose and tried not to cough. “I don’t know what to get him. A new calculator? A pocket protector — do they make pocket protectors?”
“I think only in eighties movies about nerds,” said Eli.
“Hey, what time is it?”
Eli shoved back the sleeve of his parka to check his watch. “Three.” While he was still looking at his watch and not paying attention to where he was going, Danny grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the path of a couple of oncoming kids just in time.
“Can we make a pit stop?” Danny said, eyeing the food court up ahead.
“I’m starving!” Eli yanked his arm away and bolted for Sbarro before Danny could say a word.
By the time they settled in at a table with their pile of bags and two slices of pizza, whatever had gotten Eli all squirrely was apparently over; he was eating his pizza and getting grease all over the place like usual. Danny shoved a stack of napkins at him and dug into his coat pocket for the pill bottle that had been rattling around all afternoon.
Eli watched as Danny shook two pills out and swallowed them with the bottle of water he’d grabbed from a vending machine.
“Can I ask you something?” Eli said. “It might be stupid. It’s probably stupid.”
“Sure,” said Danny through a mouthful of crust and lukewarm stringy cheese.
“Do those make a huge difference?”
Danny blinked. He chewed and swallowed. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess so.”
“What’s it like?”
He put down the greasy slice of pizza, grabbing a napkin and wiping his fingers while he thought about it. “It sucked at first, when they were trying to figure out the right one and the right dose,” he said, and Eli nodded several times. “But even then, it was like — all this time, there was all this noise,” he gestured with both hands around his head, “in my head, and I didn’t really know it was there til it was suddenly gone. I can concentrate on stuff without having to do, like, six things at once and forgetting half of them.” He let his hands fall to the table and he picked up the pizza again. It was floppy thanks to soggy dough, and after a second of staring at it, he gave up and just folded the slice in half. “It’s awesome.”
Eli nodded again, serious. There was a smudge of grease on his glasses.
"I'm really glad my parents figured it out."
"Yeah, too bad you had to put your face in front of a soccer ball first," said Eli, and Danny laughed. "They were cool about it, right? Like ... you getting diagnosed and everything."
"Of course they were," Danny said with a cheerful scoff, but something weirdly hesitant in Eli's face made him add, "My dad said they love me no matter what, yeah." There was a commotion behind them. When he glanced over, it was just two ladies who'd bumped into each other with their bags. He turned back, and Eli was furiously scrubbing something off his glasses, probably pizza grease. "I think they mostly felt bad they didn't have me get tested before."
"Yeah," said Eli, quiet, and then Isaac Washington said, " 'Sup losers!" and sat down at their table so hard that it almost vibrated Danny's paper plate right off the table. He offered his hand, and, after ten awkward seconds, Danny gave him a weirded-out high-five.
Isaac snorted and dropped a Sears bag on the table, almost right on top of Eli's pizza. "It's okay, we're gonna get it next time. Social studies, tomorrow: be there."
"Yeah, okay," said Danny.
Isaac slumped down in his chair, knees spread wide. He toed at one of their bags on the floor when his sneaker caught it. "Hot Topic? Seriously?" He laughed and stole a mushroom off Danny's pizza. "I bet that's yours, huh?" Isaac pointed at Eli with the mushroom before popping it in his mouth.
Danny glanced at Eli, who'd been sitting quietly ever since Isaac joined them and now was stiffly leaning over the table, picking pepperonis off his pizza. He wasn't looking up. Danny felt his jaw set. "Hey." He glared. "Don't be a jerk."
"Whatever whatever," said Isaac easily. "You should come hang out with me and Mike sometime if you wanna have some actual fun, Dan."
"Dude, shut up; you don't even know what you're talking about," Danny called as Isaac got up, dragged his shopping bag off the table, and headed toward the Chinese takeout kiosk. Isaac shoved Danny's head and gave him the finger on the way, so clearly he hadn't taken Danny's warning very seriously.
Danny looked across the table. "He's a douchebag; ignore him."
"It's okay," Eli said. Danny wasn't sure at first if he bought that, but then Eli added, "Thanks" and started to smile at him, and it was hard not to believe that smile.