After reading Howl's Moving Castle, Cecil enchanted our house. It walked in creaking, swaying steps, shifting barely two blocks in an afternoon, so when I woke to see a rocky coast outside my ... [+]
"Hmm," said Mr. Cray. "Well, I'm sorry if what I said embarrassed you, Phineas, but I think they'll get over it if you just give them time. You know, P. T. Barnum's name was Phineas, and he was one of the greatest showmen of all time."
"Yeah," said Phineas, "and he used his initials, not his name."
"Well, why don't you use your initials?"
"Because my middle name is Ulysses," said Phineas. "I'd be P. U."
"Yes, I see," said Mr. Cray, chuckling softly. "Well, I think you're being overly pessimistic about what the other kids will say. In any case, you do need to go outside for recess."
Phineas sighed and headed outside. He hung around on the walkway until Mr. Cray came to the door and gave him a look that told him he should go out where the other kids were.
With another sigh, he headed away from the school building. When he reached the playground, a boy with a soccer ball came up to him. "Hey, Phineas. You play soccer?"
Phineas shrugged. "A little."
"Cool." The boy dropped the ball and put his foot on top of it to hold it in place. "I'm Tom. So, Phineas, you want to play some kick back?"
"Okay." He stepped closer to Tom and lowered the level of his voice. "But, would you please stop using my name so much."
Tom pushed the ball to Phineas, then started running toward an empty section on grass on the playground.
"Why?" he called back over his shoulder. "Phineas is a great name. A lot better than Tom."
Phineas kicked the ball out ahead of Tom and ran after him. "Not to me, it isn't."
Tom trapped the ball under his foot again and turned to face Phineas. "Phineas is unique. Tom is ordinary." He started to dribble but then stopped again and looked at Phineas with a big grin. "I know, let's trade names. What do you say?"
Tom laughed as he picked up the ball and kicked it high into the air.
Phineas grabbed the ball with both hands and laughed as well. "I don't think my parents would go along with that. I was named after my uncle Phineas. Mom would have a fit."
A voice interrupted their laughter. "Hey, Tom! You up for a game after school tonight?"
Phineas turned to see who was talking. It was the tall guy from the back of the room who had laughed and whispered to the guys around him when Mr. Cray had introduced Phineas. The same guys were with him now. Phineas turned away from them.
"Sure, Bill," said Tom. "What about you, Finn?"
Phineas looked at Tom with his eyebrows scrunched together. Was Tom talking to him?
Tom looked right back at him. "I mean, you know, how about you, Finn, do you want to play?"
Bill snorted. "Finn? I thought it was Phineas." He turned to the group around him. "Hideous Phineas. I don't think anyone with a name like Phineas is likely to be much of an athlete. He even had to use his hands to catch that ball."
Tom put his hands on his hips and faced the taller boy. "Back off, Bill. Finn's new here. Why don't you wait a while before you let him know you're a jerk."
"It's okay, Tom," Phineas said. "He's probably right. I may not play as well as him."
"I don't care how well you play. If I'm going to play, you're going to be on my team."
Phineas gazed at Tom with new appreciation. Then he turned to Bill. "Is that okay with you?"
Bill shrugged. "Yeah, whatever. As long as you're not on my team."
Phineas smiled. "I wouldn't dream of it." He dropped the ball he was holding in his hands and caught it on his ankle. He held it there for a moment, then tossed it gently into the air again. As it fell, he bounced it up with his right knee, then with his left, and then sent it back over his head with the right one. He spun around, and his heel sent the ball flying to Tom. "I like the new nickname, Tom. Thanks. By the way, did I mention that my uncle used to be a professional soccer player?"
Tom laughed. "I don't think so, Finn." The two of them ran off to the other side of the playground, kicking the ball back and forth.
Bill stood watching them. His mouth was wide open. He wasn't laughing.