On the way home from the hospital, there is no music and no talking. Mom and Dad are silent and serious in the front. JB is on the other side of the backseat, but Josh feels miles away from all of them.
Mom sits Josh down. She asks him sternly if he’s lost his mind, and she says boys who don’t have self-control end up behind bars. She and Dad did not teach him to be churlish, and she does not know why he’s been like this. Josh does not have much to say but apologizes. He did not mean to get upset, he offers. Mom tries to reassure him that JB will always love him.
Mom then sighs that they are done, and Josh asks what the consequences are. She lets the news drop: he is suspended from the team.
Josh does not know how he went from annoyed to grumpy to churlish. How does he apologize to his twin brother for being churlish and almost breaking his nose?
This week I
This week, Josh makes the honor roll, watches the team win Game Nine, eats lunch alone, walks home alone, tries to atone day and night, sits next to JB at dinner (JB moves), does JB’s chores (JB says nothing), and says he’s sorry (JB doesn’t listen).
Basketball Rule #7
“Rebounding / is the art / of anticipating, / of always being prepared / to grab it. / But you can’t / drop the ball” (146).
The Nosebleed Section
JB is on fire and blazes from baseline to baseline. Dad is yelling from the stands and Mom is trying to calm him down. Josh whispers to Dad that JB won’t talk to him, and Dad replies that he just has to let the smoke clear. He suggests writing him a letter, and Josh thinks that could work.
JB is running and gunning; he is a shooting star. He’s getting flyer, climbing the sky, exploding across the lane, crissing and crossing the ball, and taking the break. He almost dunks, but an elbow comes up and fouls him to the floor.
Dad is screaming, running down the stairs, and yelling at the ref. His voice is as loud as thunder. JB and his attacker stare at each other. Josh wants in, but Mom warns him not to interfere. She and Coach try to control Dad. He calms down, but suddenly his nose gushes blood.
The next morning
Mom insists that Dad call Dr. Youngblood. Dad jokes about the name. Josh tries talking to JB, but JB does not reply; it’s been five days. Mom tells JB that Josh has apologized for his mistake, but JB states that he saw the look in Josh’s eye and it was not a mistake.
JB sweats profusely when Miss Sweet Tea walks into the room. The team thanks JB profusely for getting them to the championship. Dad’s blood pressure was so high during the game that his nose started bleeding profusely.
Article #1 in the Daily News (December 14)
The Reggie Lewis Wildcats have reached the playoffs thanks to the work of Jordan Bell. They were missing Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell, though, who is this paper’s Most Valuable Player.
Josh gets a lot of accolades for being the Junior High MVP but Miss Sweet Tea tells him frankly that he is mean and did not deserve that award because of what he did to JB. JB is standing there and saying nothing; his eyes are looking past Josh. Josh realizes that “sometimes it’s the things that aren’t said / that kill you” (156).
The sound of Jeopardy is in the background as Josh asks if Mom will let him in the playoffs, especially as his grades were good. Mom says it’s not about his grades: it’s about how he behaves going forward. Dad tries to break the tension by talking about Christmas and the turkey. He tells a joke and, finally, they all laugh.
Mom tells Jordan she wants to meet his new friend; Dad chimes in that they want to meet the girl who took JB away.
Josh writes his letter. He admits he is empty: he is the goal with no net. His life is broken like puzzle pieces and he can no longer fit. Can JB run with him, help him heal, slash with him like they used to? They are like “two stars / stealing sun” and “like two brothers / burning up. / together” (159).
I don’t know
Josh does not know if JB read his letter, but on the bus, he made a joke about Vondie’s forehead being a “five-head” and he could feel JB laughing a little.
No Pizza and Fries
Josh’s spinach and tofu lunch is cruel, but not as cruel as the look Miss Sweet Tea gives him.
Vondie has a girlfriend now, too. She’s a candy striper and cheerleader, and she talks about her favorite color being purple. All of this is better than no girlfriend at all, which is what Josh has.
Josh is on the phone with Vondie when he hears panting coming from Mom and Dad’s room… but they don’t have a dog.
I run into Dad’s room
Dad’s kneeling weakly on the floor with a pool of vomit below him. He tells Josh it was something he ate, and he changes the subject to how he just got a coaching job at a nearby college. Josh asks, incredulous, about the house, Mom, him, and JB. Dad sighs that the boys are getting older and they will manage. Josh is concerned, asking about Mom’s advice to take it easy. Dad says he needs to get back on the court—he misses it too much.
Josh ruefully says he will talk to Mom since he can see how much it means to Dad, but he adds that she is worried about him. He wants Dad to talk to Mom because he feels like he needs to be in the playoffs and is letting his teammates down. Dad replies sadly that he let them down, and Josh asks what he should do.
From the doorway, a stricken Mom says he should go sit down for dinner.
Behind Closed Doors
Mom and Dad argue. Dad tells Mom that he looks online and that that’s better than a doctor, but Mom angrily insists that she will make an appointment for him.
The girl who stole my brother
This is the new name Josh has for Alexis. She is at the house for dinner and Josh is surprised to hear JB asking for seconds of the healthy food. Mom asks how they met and JB is full of details, explaining how she came into the lunchroom, how he learned she played basketball, and how he told Vondie she was pulchritudinous. There is a hint of a smile for Josh with that.
Things I Learn at Dinner
Alexis went to Nike Hoops Camp for Girls; she knows how to do a crossover; her parents are divorced; she shoots hoops at the rec center to relax; she smells like sugarplums; her sister goes to Duke.
When Mom and Josh are washing dishes, he asks when Dad’s appointment is. Mom gently chides him for eavesdropping but laughs when he says he learned that strategy from her. Josh hugs Mom and tells her how grateful he is for her loving him, Dad, and JB; he says that she is the best mother in the world. Mom smiles and says he’ll be back on the team in no time, but she warns him not to press his luck.
Coach’s Talk Before the Game
Josh decides to sit with the team today instead of up with Mom and Dad. Coach gives the team a pep talk.
When the game starts, Josh looks up to his parents, but they’re not there. He and JB lock eyes; there’s that seeing-a-ghost sensation again.
Vondie is suffocated by the defense and JB can’t make the shot; the Wildcats are down at the end of the first half.
Text Messages from Mom, Part One
Mom texts a few times that she and Dad needed to leave because Dad did not feel well—he’s fine, just tired.
The Second Half
The Wildcats are up by two now. JB is on fire; Coach, Alexis, and Josh are his choir. JB is playing like Superman, and he gets the team to the championship with his lightning plays.
Tomorrow is the Last Day of School Before Christmas Vacation
Usually, Josh helps JB study, but JB’s been studying alone lately. There is a big vocabulary test tomorrow and Josh is worried for his brother. When JB is brushing his teeth, Josh steals into their room and lays his outlines down on JB’s pillow. He turns out the light to go to sleep and hears his brother say “Thanks.”
Coach comes over
At lunch, Coach comes over to where Vondie and Josh are and gives Josh a lecture about making up with his brother. He and his own brother are estranged, and he does not want JB and Josh to be like that. He adds that Mom said Josh could play if they make it to the championship game.
Alexis’s parents are estranged. Josh was estranged from himself when he threw the ball at JB. JB and Josh are estranged, but Dad’s making them play a three-on-three tomorrow at the rec center.
Dad picks up the boys; he's cracking jokes, and they’re laughing. The boys know they’re getting books like they always do for Christmas, but Dad tells them he’s proud of how they’ve done in school so they can pick out a gift and he’ll get it for them.
At the stoplight, JB and Josh look out the window at the same time, and Josh knows what his brother is thinking. He asks Dad if they can stop at the sneaker store. When JB echoes, “Yeah, Dad, can we?” (189), the word “we” has never sounded so sweet to Josh.
The Phone Rings
Alexis calls and Josh answers; she says hello and asks for JB. Josh tells her he’s busy, and she says she will see them at the rec center.
Basketball Rule #8
“Sometimes / you have to / lean back / a little / and / fade away / to get / the best / shot” (191).
When we get to the court
Before the three-on-three, Josh challenges Dad to a quick one-on-one. They’re having a fantastic time, and everyone there is watching. Dad is joking and telling stories about Italy. He unleashes a killer crossover and everyone is hollering as Dad dribbles to the hoop.
At Noon, in the Gym, with Dad
People are watching; the crowd is growing; Josh and Dad are balling. Josh is making moves and dribbling; Dad gets the ball, winks, dips, and sweats. Dad is heading for the hoop when he stops short, screams, clutches his chest, and drops the ball. Alexis calls 911 and JB rushes to get water to splash Dad’s face. He’s out cold. Josh does CPR, but nothing changes. There are sirens. Da's pulse is gone. His eyes shut.
Josh’s earlier sense that everything was going well in his life and something bad was certain to happen soon has now revealed itself to have been very prescient. First, his “churlish” and aggressive behavior toward his twin has almost severed their relationship. Josh is extremely regretful for what he has done, never trying to defend himself, but JB naturally decides to keep his distance all the same. Alexander reveals in a subtle and moving way how eventually the brothers start to move incrementally closer together again, such as with Josh writing JB a letter or giving him his vocabulary study materials, but it is realistic in that it is painful and happens in fits and starts.
Second, Alexander increases the sense of foreboding when it comes to Chuck (JB’s seeing-a-ghost expression is telling). His nosebleed and his vomiting are finally enough to get him to let Crystal make him a doctor’s appointment, but, as the reader will see, it is too little, too late. The heart attack Chuck suffers during the one-on-one game at the end of this section is not the last warning we hope it is: rather, it’s a sign that there is no going back.
Josh’s interior state as he contemplates these changes in his life is a testament to Alexander’s ability to capture the complexity of a teenager. Josh isn’t a cliché; he truly seems to be a living, breathing boy who experiences real feelings of despair, triumph, pride, jealousy, and confusion. Just because he wants to repair his relationship with JB, does not mean he still doesn’t have trouble with Alexis. Just because he is elated to be the Daily News Junior MVP, doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting when Alexis and JB don’t seem pleased at all.
Speaking of Alexis, even though the main characters of this book are obviously boys, Alexander does not make Alexis merely an object of desire or a dull cipher. Yes, what attracts the junior high boys to her immediately is her “pulchritude,” but she quickly reveals herself to be smart, opinionated, talented at basketball, and a caring friend. She’s justifiably annoyed with Josh for the way he treated his brother, but she is capable of moving past that and forgiving Josh, even reaching out to him and inviting him to the Duke game at the very end of the novel. In the list of “Things I Learn at Dinner,” Alexander gives her even more nuance in terms of divorced parents, a coping mechanism (“She shoots hoops at the Rec to relax" ), and troubles of her own (“Her mom doesn’t want her playing basketball" ).