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My Pride and Joy

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Philip loved Wednesdays. Wednesdays were great days, and here’s why…

Number One: It meant it was almost the weekend

Number Two: John would let him feed Flash and Gordon – On his own!

Number Three: His dad didn’t have to rush into work, because he had a late start.

Number Four: They got to write poems with Miss Schuyler.

Five: He and Theo could go to the school’s library at break time.

Number Six: It was ‘Clean Sheet Day’ and he and his dad would have great fun changing the bed sheets (this only happened once a month, but always on a Wednesday)

Seven: His dad finished work early, so he could pick him up from school.

Number Eight: There was a rerun omnibus of The Proud Family episodes, which he was allowed to watch while he did his homework (he liked Puff the Dog, but his dad liked Suga Mama)

Nine: (and this was a new one) he was starting his piano lessons with Miss Schuyler that day after school.

His dad had told him about the new lessons not that long after Thanksgiving. The news had shocked the young boy, but the shock had soon been replaced with jubilation as he squealed and hugged his father, rambling on-and-on about how much of a cool dad he was. His father had then told Philip that Miss Schuyler would teach him piano every second Wednesday, but the week in between he would go to the Washington’s after school and practice for an hour until Alex, John or Abuelita Carlotta picked him up…or if Mr or Mrs Washington gave him a lift home.

The curly-haired boy had nodded excitedly, promising to practice his hardest and learn all he could so that he could impress his dad with a tune at Christmas. (This promise also came at the polite request of a keyboard for Christmas, only if his dad could afford it). He didn’t want Alexander spending too much money on him, he knew that they were poor and that the only way for them to rise up was how hard his dad worked.

Anyway, back to school, Philip was hunched over his desk writing. Like his dad, he loved writing. There was just something about it – his dad said it must be in his genes, but Pip had no idea what his trousers had anything to do with his love of writing. At that current moment, he was sat next to Theo writing a poem. Miss Schuyler had asked them to write or draw what they wanted to be when they grew up, and immediately the young Hamilton had snatched a pencil from his turtle-shaped pencil case and had began writing with great speed. His poem looked something like this:

“My name is Philip,

I am a poet,

And I wrote this poem, just to show it.

And this is a funny line,

You can write rhymes, but you can’t write mine!

I practice French,

And play piano with Missus Schuyler

When I grow up I wanna be a writer

My daddy writes, he doesn’t work at the bank.

Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq!”

“Look Theo!”, he said proudly once he’d written his name at the bottom of the page.

Theodosia, a dark-skinned girl with large, charcoal eyes and curly, black hair, looked up from her own drawing (she’d been drawing a picture of a ballet dancer) and smiled over at her friend. To her left sat Quincy Adams, who was scribbling about how he wanted to be a superhero when he grew up, and across from them sat Henry Knox (drawing a picture of a rainbow) and Nathaniel Green who was drawing a cat. On Philip’s right sat George Eacker, he was writing something, but Philip couldn’t read his handwriting, because it was so small. Philip didn’t like George, and George didn’t like Philip, but Miss Schuyler had sat them both at the same table, because she thought that they could get along…Philip, on the other hand, didn’t think so.

“What?”, she asked, curiosity filling her voice, and her eyes widened as Philip passed her his poem. He then watched, playing with the flippers of his turtle-case, as she read it – she was a slow reader – and played with the ends of his curls. His dad had plaited his hair that morning, but he hadn’t done a very good job, because the majority of it had escaped. Pulling the curl until it looked straight, Pip blew some of the hair from his eyes, and giggled when it tickled his nose.

“It’s really good, Pippy!” Theo said, a large smile showing her white teeth. Philip also smiled, but he could feel his cheeks turn red when she said it was “excellent”. It was one of the biggest words she knew, so it meant a lot to him that she used it to describe his poem.

The little girl moved to give him back the sheet of paper, but a hand from next to Philip snatched the poem from her hand. Both she and the little Hamilton cried out as George scrunched the paper as he read the poem, his green eyes reading the short amount of writing that was on it.

“Give me back my poem, Eacker!”

Philip’s voice was attempting to be firm, like his dad, but he could only manage a small tone…afterall Eacker was a lot taller than him already.

“No,” Eacker spat, “Your poem is stupid.”

“It ain’t stupid!”

“You’re stupid!”

“I’m not stupid!”

“He’s not stupid!” Theo and Philip spoke in unison, but still George refused to give back the poem. When Philip tried to snatch it back, the other boy merely shoved him away with a shoulder. He tried again, with the same result. Theo huffed and folded her arms, her little lips pouting as she looked at the two boys.

“Why are you so mean, George? Pippy didn’t do nothing to you!”

George, glaring at Philip first (who stuck his tongue out as a reply) put on a crestfallen expression when he spoke to her. “He was mean to me first, Theo.”

“Only I call Theo Theo!”

“No you don’t, Pippy!”

He said Theo’s nickname for Philip with a sneer, and it was this that pushed Philip over the edge. He grabbed again, but not for the poem this time. Instead he grabbed George’s hair, and the taller boy screamed, slapping at Philip’s shoulders and shoving him off his chair. The crash alerted Miss Schuyler, who had been helping one of the other tables with their drawings, and she shot up and over to the chaos.

“Philip! George! That’s enough.”

Her stern tone told the boys that she wasn’t joking, and she was definitely not happy. She told them to go wait outside the classroom, and she would speak to them shortly.

In the hallway, George kept sending Philip pointed glares, but Philip was sat on the floor, hugging his knees and trying to control his tears…he really didn’t want to cry…especially not in front of George Eacker. His eyes kept betraying them as salty droplet after salty droplet fell from his brown eyes and onto the sleeves of his top. The tears weren’t for the fact that Miss Schuyler was going to tell him off for fighting, nor were they for the fact that he’d bumped his head really hard off the floor when George had shoved him off his chair…they weren’t even for the fact that stupid George Eacker had called him stupid…no, the tears were because he knew that Miss Schuyler would tell his dad, and that his dad would be upset.

His dad wouldn’t act upset, he wouldn’t shout at him, he’d be upset that Philip hadn’t told him about George Eacker…that would really upset him…and Philip didn’t want to make his dad sad…not on a Wednesday.

It felt like forever before Miss Schuyler came to speak to them, and she looked less angry when she did. Eliza crouched down to the boys’ height and rested her hands on her lap, beckoning the children to come over…which they did, reluctantly.

“Philip started it!” George said quickly as she opened her mouth.

The woman contained a sigh, “I’m not asking who started it George. I want to know why you were fighting.”

Her voice was kind, gentle so that they knew that things would be ok. She looked between the pair: George with his arms folded and Philip who had tear tracks forming on his freckled cheeks.

“G-George said my poem was stupid and I was stupid.”

“No I didn’t!”

“Yes you did! You snatched my poem off Theo!”

“Liar!”

“I’m not a liar! You’re the liar!”

“Boys! What do we say about shouting?”

There was silence, awkward and embarrassed. Eventually, both boys muttered, “No shouting, miss”

“That’s right. So, can we talk about this with our inside voices, yes?”

Eacker nodded at her, while Philip mumbled a barely audible, “Mhm.”

“Good boys. Now, George, did you snatch Philip’s poem?”

“No!”

She intercepted before Philip could speak, “George, remember we don’t lie.”

The boy contained a huffed, but then nodded his head as a response to her question.

“And did you call him stupid?”

Again, a nod.

“Why?”

There was a shrug this time. “Would you like it if someone called you stupid, George?”

A shake of the head.

“Can you apologise to Philip then?”

There was a hesitant few seconds, until eventually (under the encouragingly pressured gaze of Miss Schuyler) George muttered, “Sorry.”

“Well done. Now, Philip, can you apologise for hitting George?”

“Sorry, George.”

Eliza smiled brightly at the pair of them and stood up. “See, that wasn’t so hard! Well done both of you. Now can we go back inside, and I want no more shouting or fighting, ok?”

Neither of the two boys replied to her, they were barely looking at each other…more their shoes…but she let them back into the class and followed after them. The door closed behind her softly and she watched as George stomped back to his seat – not caring that most of the other 6-year-olds were looking at him – whereas Philip hid behind his hair and walked slowly back to his table. She noted how quietly he sat down and resumed working and made a mental note to speak to him more about it in their piano lesson.

_-...-_

Eliza wasn’t sure how to go about asking Philip about the events from earlier. Normally, she’d have no bother with it, because she rarely saw her kids outside of the school…but Philip was a special case. She knew that teachers shouldn’t have favourites, but there was something about Philip Hamilton…the brightness of his smile, his eyes, his writing…she didn’t know what exactly, but she knew that she would’ve been proud if he was her own son.

 Over lunch, she’d phoned Alex at work and told him about the fight. The man had sounded distraught, and had had no idea that Eacker even existed, let alone bore some kind of grudge against his son. He’d offered to come straight to the school to collect Pip, but Eliza had told him that the younger of the two Hamiltons had seemed really excited about his piano lesson, and she didn’t want to cancel it and upset him further. Reluctantly, Alex had agreed, but she knew she’d probably unleashed a tidal wave of worry upon the poor man and could only hope that John, Hercules and Lafayette could keep him distracted for the rest of the afternoon.

She looked over at Philip with concerned eyes but managed a smile when he looked over at her from where they sat on the piano stool. They were still at the school, and she was easing him into the instrument gently – although he seemed enthusiastic at attempting to hit every key at once.

“Ok, Philip, are you ready?”

“Yes!” He replied, all memory of the fight at the back of his mind. The resilience of children constantly amazed her, but she didn’t want him to forget about it before they could work it out.

“Good. Now, repeat this after me – un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, ouit, neuf.”

Her fingers danced along the keys and her skylark voice carried an awe-invoking grace, and then it was Philip’s turn. He repeated the phrase but jumped to the higher counterpart of the sequence as he came to the final three numbers.

“…six, sept, ouit, neuf.”

“Sept, ouit, neuf.” Eliza repeated.

Philip did the exact same thing as before, “Sept, ouit, neuf.”

“No, no, listen,” she said lightly, “Sept, ouit, neuf.”

“Sept, ouit, neuf.”

Eliza giggled as the boy did it wrong again, shaking her head and grinning at him. “We’ll work on it again later,” she whispered, and Philip let out a small laugh.

“Shall we take a break?”

“Ok!”

Philip was sat on the floor, playing with his pencil case, while Eliza sipped at her coffee. She smoothed out her skirt and crossed her legs as her phone vibrated on the piano lid. A smile crept onto her face when she saw who the text was from.

Maria R: Heyyy! When are you free? X

Elizaaa: Hi! Sorry, can’t talk right now (teaching a piano lesson) I’ll text you more later xx

Maria R: Shit! Soz didn’t know XD No rest for teachers, eh? TTYL X

Warmth spread across her chest, as she tucked her phone away in her bag. She then looked back over at Philip…it was now or never to ask.

“I read your poem Philip.”

He looked over at her, his eyes wide and pulled his turtle-case closer to him like a security blanket. As he waited for her reaction, she went and sat next to him, ruffling his hair fondly – it had fully escaped the plait.

“I thought it was lovely.”

“It was stupid…George was right.”

Her gaze softened, “No, George should never have said that word. You are a very clever little boy, Pip, and your poem was wonderful, like a rap.”

“Really?”

“Mhm, cross my heart.”

A small smile graced his freckles, but Eliza wasn’t done.

“Why did you grab George, Philip?”

“Dunno, just did. He was being mean to me and Pops says you should stand up to bullies.”

“Your dad is right, Philip…but you should never choose to fight them.”

“He hit me too!”

Her reply caught in her throat when she saw the fat tears on the verge of escape. She could feel her heart break for this little boy in front of her, and it only continued with what he said next.

“I meant my sorry, but George didn’t! He kept saying I was stupid! And, and he drew on Theo’s drawing! She’d worked really hard on it, it was a ballet dancer! A-and he said that my, my dad was stupid for being a writer, but my dad isn’t stupid! And I wanted to hit him again, but I didn’t want to make you mad, and I didn’t want to upset dad, because dad needs to be happy and, and..”

He broke off as hysteria took hold, and his small shoulders began shaking – the tears breaking free from their cage and rolling down his face. Eliza didn’t hesitate, she scooped the boy into her arms and hugged him close – kissing the top of his head and rocking him gently. She felt as if she’d failed him a little; by not noticed what else had happened…but she couldn’t have, because Philip had told her…he wasn’t scared to tell her what George had done. She spoke into his curls as his crying started to quieten.

“You are not stupid Philip. Your dad isn’t stupid, either. It was mean of George to say those things, and I will speak to him tomorrow. Thank you for telling me, that was really brave.”

She contained a smile when Philip’s eyes met hers and he wiped his snotty nose with his sleeve. “Do you want to go back to playing the piano?”

He nodded mutely, glad that she had changed the subject. He didn’t feel brave, he felt embarrassed, but when Miss Schuyler gave him another tight hug, a little bit of braveness swirled in his stomach.

They were both sat at the piano, singing and playing, when Alex arrived to retrieve his son. He smiled a little, but his eyes held worry. It was masked though when Philip noticed his arrival and barrelled over to him. His son wrapped his arms around his middle ad Alex could feel the dampening of tears on his top, and he hugged Philip tightly. When they pulled apart, Philip was rubbing his eyes as fresh tears (for the third time that day) ran their way down his face.

“I-I-I’m sorry f-for fighting.” The 6-year-old managed to choke out.

Alex crouched down, cupping his son’s cheeks and wiping the tears away with the sleeve of his hoodie. He squeezed Pip’s shoulders and gave his forehead a kiss.

“Hey now, none of that, hijo. It’s ok.”

He pulled Philip in for another hug and gently took out the hair tie which had failed to hold his hair. He then looked over to Eliza and mouthed “thank you”. She waved her hand but blushed shyly all the same. Alex helped Philip collect his things and then, without bringing up the issue further, the Hamilton’s said goodbye to Eliza and left the school.

Alex held Philip’s hand tightly as they walked home. In the other was his phone and John was texting him.

Laurens: Hey, everythin go ok wiv Pip?

A.Ham: Yeah think so

Laurens: r u ok?

A.Ham: Yeah

Laurens: Alex don’t lie to me.

A.Ham: Honestly John, I’m ok. Just worried about Pip

Laurens: He’ll be ok

Laurens: Wanna order a pizza?

A.Ham: Takeaway on a school night?

Laurens: I’ll buy ;)

Alex chuckled quietly at John’s text, and then looked down at Pip. It was Wednesday, ‘Clean Sheet Day’…John wouldn’t want to help with that…

A.Ham: It’s clean sheet day at home

Laurens: Happy 2 help if u want me?