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Authors: W. C. Mack

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Chapter Fourteen

It turned out that the Canucks game was a month away and I’d have to wait four whole weeks before I had my chance at the shot.

Unfortunately, waiting for the Canucks to play wasn’t the only thing I had to worry about. In all of the contest excitement, I’d totally forgotten about parent-teacher interviews.

But Mum and Dad hadn’t.

I was busy reading the last chapter of
Over the Moon
on Monday night when they got back from the school.

“Jonathan, will you come down here, please?” Dad called from downstairs.

“Just a second,” I called back, trying to read faster. I couldn’t believe how much I cared how the book was going to end.

“Now!” Mum shouted.

Uh-oh.

I slipped a bookmark between the pages and took a deep breath. What now?

When I got downstairs, Mum and Dad were sitting at the dining room table, both on the same side. There was one chair facing the two of them and when Dad tilted his head at it, I sat down.

“So, Mum said, putting both of her hands face down on the table and staring at them for a minute. “What can you tell me about Mr. Holloway’s class?”

Double uh-oh.

“It’s on the second floor, two doors down from the library and —”

“Not the location, Jonathan,” Mum said. “The class itself.”

“Um … I think there are maybe twenty-five kids, and of course Mr. —”

“Jonathan,” Dad warned. “You know perfectly well what we’re talking about.”

Unfortunately, I did.

“We learned quite a bit tonight,” Mum said, frowning. “Mr. Holloway went into great detail about the teacher-student relationship.”

“In particular,” Dad continued, “how
he
is a teacher who assigns homework and
you
are a student who doesn’t complete it.”

Nuts!

Who came up with the stupid idea for parent-teacher interviews, anyway? Like I needed all the grown-ups to get together and talk about me!

“I’ve completed some of it,” I argued.

“Forty-six percent of it,” Mum said.

Nuts.

Count on Mr. Holloway to give them an exact percentage.

“Look, I’ve been trying to —”

“Win hockey games?” Mum finished for me. “Enter trivia contests?”

My stomach twisted.

“Look, son,” Dad said, leaning toward me. “As we all know, from many conversations in the past, when school suffers —”

“Hockey goes out the window,” Wendy said, coming in from the kitchen. She was talking through a mouthful of mushy banana.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard it all before. Hockey goes out the window. Blah, blah, blah. They were kidding, weren’t they? I looked from one face to the other and back again, my stomach twisting tighter.

They had to be kidding!

Didn’t they?

“This is no joke,” Mum said. “Until you bring your Math grades up, you are officially benched.”

“But —”

“This means adding an extra tutoring session every week,” Mum added.

“Eddie Bosko is about to become a permanent fixture around here,” Dad said. “Maybe we should prepare the guest room.”

“But —”

“We’re past the point of buts,” Dad said, resting a hand on my shoulder and shaking his head.

“You are a very lucky boy, Jonathan McDonald,” Mum said.

“I am?” I asked. It sure didn’t feel like it.

“I wanted your trip to the Canucks game to be dependent on your Math grade.”

I almost choked. “But I
won
the trip, and —”

“Don’t worry. Your father talked me out of it,” Mum interrupted. “Like I said, you’re a lucky boy.”

I didn’t dare argue with that.

* * *

As it turned out, my parents’ long talk with Mr. Holloway proved that all three grown-ups were on the exact same page, in the worst book
ever
.

I was on my way out of yet another confusing Math class on Tuesday when Mr. Holloway called me up to his desk. The last couple of kids out the door snickered, then the room was dead silent.

“Mr. McDonald,” Mr. Holloway said, leaning back in his chair and looking at me over the top of his glasses.

“Yes?”

“We have been struggling this year, haven’t we?”

I knew he didn’t really mean “we,” but me.

“Yes.” I nodded.

“Homework assignments have been completed at a rather dismal rate.”

I figured dismal meant bad, so I nodded again.

“Since you are a student who refuses to do the assigned work at home, I’m afraid you’ll be doing it in the classroom.”

Nuts!

“Do you mean standing at the board?” I asked, already dreading it.

“No.”

Whew!

“Every Friday for the next three weeks, you will report to this room, immediately following the dismissal bell.” He stared at me. “I will prepare a test for each week, and you must average seventy-five percent on the three tests.”

Seventy-five percent!

Or what? I wanted to ask.

He must have seen the question in my eyes, because he answered it. “Or you fail this class and hockey season is over for good, Mr. McDonald.”

* * *

I found Kenny in the lunchroom and sat next to him. I wanted to tell him about my serious Math problem, but I also wanted to apologise for being a jerk at Saturday’s game. The rotten part was, I didn’t know what to say.

“Want my oatmeal cookies?” I asked.

Kenny didn’t answer. In fact, he didn’t even look at me.

“Kenny,” I said, nudging him with my elbow.

“Are you talking to me?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Wow, I feel honoured.” He still wouldn’t look at me. Instead, he bit into a gross looking (and smelling) tuna sandwich.

I tried again. “Look, I didn’t mean to —”

“Be a jerk?” he asked.

“Well … yeah.”

“Because you were, you know.” He frowned. “A total jerk.”

“I know, Kenny, and I’m sorry.”

“Why do you have to be so greedy about hockey?”

“I’m not, I —”

“Yes you are. Why can’t you just be happy when other people score, or have an awesome game?”

“I am, it’s just that —”

“You’re a jerk?” he asked.

Ouch. I nodded slowly, knowing he was right. I’d been a total jerk to a kid who’d been a really good buddy, and
that stunk. “Sometimes. I’m seriously sorry, Kenny.”

He finally looked at me and was quiet for a few seconds. “I believe you.”

“So are we okay?” I asked.

“The cookies will make it even,” he said, smiling.

I handed them over and got to work on my ham and cheese sandwich.

“So, what did Mr. Holloway want?” Kenny asked, in between bites.

I explained the situation to him and watched his eyes bug out. “So, I’m stuck with a test every week, even more tutoring with Bosko and no hockey.”

“You have the worst luck of any kid I know, Nugget.”

I imagined what the grown-ups would think about that. I was pretty sure Mum, Dad, Coach and Mr. Holloway would all say the same thing, so I said it to Kenny. “It’s not bad luck, it’s bad decisions.” It was true.

I took another bite of my sandwich, just as Eddie Bosko showed up at our table.

“I hear we’re doing twice a week now,” he said.

“Yeah.”

He shrugged. “The extra work won’t hurt you or my wallet.”

“Great.” Did he have to keep reminding me about getting paid?

“Is your sister going to be there?”

I sighed. “I have no idea. But listen, Eddie, this is serious. I need to score a seventy-five percent average on three tests.”

He shrugged again. “You can probably do that.”

“I can’t play hockey until I do.”

Eddie Bosko froze. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Exactly what it sounds like,” I told him. “If I don’t get my grades up, I don’t play.”

His eyebrows squished together to make an expression I’d never seen on his face before. Eddie Bosko actually looked
worried
. “But I’m not going to be here for the next game,” he said.

“You’re not?”

“No! And I was thinking that’s okay because we cover each other so well.”

“What?”

“I figured you’d play more while I’m gone and we’d still stand a chance of winning.” He scowled. “If we both can’t play, we’re doomed.”

I stared at him, trying to understand what I’d heard. “Did you just say we cover each other well?”

“Yeah. You’re the best guy I’ve shared the position with.”

“Shared?” What was he talking about? I thought we’d been fighting for it.

“Duh, Nugget.” He shook his head. “I need a good partner, and you’re it.”

“Partner?”

Eddie Bosko turned to Kenny and asked, “Is something wrong with him?”

“It’s more than one thing,” Kenny told him. “In fact, I can’t even count them all.”

“So,” I said, “this whole time we’ve been playing together, you wanted me to be good?”

Eddie rolled his eyes. “We’re a team, man.”

And that’s when it hit me. Worrying about who was going to start had been a total waste of time! Neither of us could play the whole game without a break, so we needed
to share the position. And even more important? If we both played well, we were a double threat to the opposing team. I never should have wanted Eddie to be a monkey on the ice, because we were supposed to be working together.

Oh brother, was I ever stupid!

“We’re gonna lose this weekend,” Eddie groaned. “I know it.”

“Can’t you change your plans?” I asked.

“No.”

“Why not?” Kenny asked, sprouts trailing from his mouth like worms. How gross could one stinking sandwich get?

Eddie frowned again. “I have somewhere I need to be, okay?”

“Where?” I asked, wondering what on earth could be more important than the game.

Eddie Bosko let out a sigh. “Meeting of the Math Minds.”

“What?” Kenny and I both asked.

“It’s a Math competition, for the whole province.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You’re willing to let the Cougars lose so you can be part of a nerd herd?”

Kenny laughed and milk came out of his nose.

Yuck.

“What did you just say?” Eddie asked, leaning in close.

I cleared my throat. “Nothing, it’s just —”

“Hey,
I
have a good reason for not being able to play. I’m not the one who can’t make it because they goofed off in Math class. That’s
you
, Nugget. You blew that on your own.”

He was right, and I didn’t have a comeback.

“I’ll see you at your place after school,” he told me. “We’ll get you your seventy-five percent, but you’d better be ready to work for it.”

* * *

Eddie Bosko wasn’t kidding.

When he came over, it was straight to the books, with only a quick break to wolf down a bunch of Mum’s brownies.

He only pulled a flounder once, and that was the first time Wendy came through the dining room to grab a snack from the kitchen.

“Hey, do you like horror movies?” he asked.

Wendy turned to face him. “You’ll be living one if my brother doesn’t pass Math. Get to work.”

Ouch!

Eddie Bosko’s face turned bright red, and from that moment on, he was more focused than ever.

Which meant I had to be too.

Chapter Fifteen

On Friday, I reported to Mr. Holloway’s class and found out I had thirty minutes to complete my first test. I slowly worked my way through fifteen questions. Most of them involved calculating percentages and multiplying fractions and, thanks to Eddie Bosko, almost all of them made sense.

To my surprise, I finished a few minutes early and I stood up to turn the paper in.

“Review, Mr. McDonald,” Mr. Holloway said when I was halfway up the aisle.

“But —”

“Review,” he said, more firmly.

I plunked down in the closest seat to check my answers. After just a few seconds I very quietly erased and corrected one of them. Maybe he was right.

When my thirty minutes were officially up, Mr. Holloway collected my test and made me sit at my desk to wait while he marked it.

I did my best to just breathe, and when I heard him make a “tsk” noise, I closed my eyes for a few seconds and
pretended I was out on the ice. I imagined that time was about to run out in a tied game and Kenny passed the puck to me.

I slipped past a defender and —

“Tsk.”

I swallowed hard and tried to concentrate on the daydream instead of a sea of red X marks. I had the puck and the crowd was on its feet, cheering like crazy. I dodged around a second defender and had a clear shot at the crease. I lined up the puck and took the shot.

Score!

I smiled and opened my eyes, only to remember exactly where I was and exactly what was happening. How long did it take to grade a stupid test? I watched the second hand on the clock tick for several minutes, then stared out the window. What if I failed? I didn’t want to think about it. What if —

“Mr. McDonald?” Mr. Holloway said.

“Yes?” I asked, scrambling to get up from my desk and walk toward him.

Every step brought me closer to knowing.

And I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

I stood at the edge of his desk, my hands sweating like crazy and my mouth totally dry.

“Seventy-six percent,” Mr. Holloway said.

What? “Are you serious?” I gasped.

He didn’t say anything, but lifted the paper so I could read the grade.

Whew! I actually did it!

“Next week’s test will increase in difficulty. It’s important that you be prepared.”

“I will,” I told him, and I meant it.

* * *

Mum and Dad were thrilled with my grade, but not thrilled enough to let me play that Saturday. Rules were rules, after all.

They took me to the rink so I could watch the game, and even though I knew I was stuck on the bench, I went to the locker room and put my gear on with the rest of the guys.

“I don’t know how we’re going to win this one,” Patrick Chen said, shaking his head.

“You can do it,” I told him, but the truth was, I wasn’t so sure. With Bosko off at Math Provincials and me out of the game, who was going to play right wing?

I found out soon enough that Coach was putting Kenny in, which seemed totally nuts.

“Nugget, you know you’re not playing,” Coach said, when he saw me in uniform.

“I know,” I told him. “I’m just here for support.”

“Okay, as long as we understand each other.”

“We do,” I told him. I understood that I was going to have to sit there and watch my best pal try not to have a heart attack on the ice.

When the guys lined up to start the game, I crossed my fingers and hoped Kenny wouldn’t freak out. After all, he’d never started before. I watched the ref drop the puck and we took possession right away. I stood up and cheered for my teammates.

It wasn’t long before we took the lead, and even though I was surprised, Coach didn’t seem to be. To my total shock and amazement, as the minutes passed, Kenny got some kind of a rhythm going with Patrick Chen and even scored during first period.

Patrick scored twice in the second, then Kenny added goal number four. Two goals for Kenny in one game!

“He’s playing really well,” Coach said.

“Yeah,” I agreed, frowning.

I hated sitting there doing nothing and I was kind of jealous that Kenny was having such an awesome game. It stunk that the team was actually winning with no help from me.

Zero percent Nugget.

As the third period began, I wandered over to the snack bar for a bag of chips and a soggy hotdog. Compared to being out on the ice, the snack was a pretty crummy consolation prize.

Suddenly it seemed stupid to be all suited up with no chance of playing, so I headed back to the locker room to change. I thought I’d feel better in my jeans and sweatshirt, but it actually felt a bit worse, like I was just a fan and not a player. Like I wasn’t even on the team anymore.

I joined Mum and Dad in the stands just as the game was ending. The second I sat down, my pal Kenny scored the final goal. We won the game. Well,
they
won the game, while I just watched.

I couldn’t believe my benchwarming buddy had it in him, and I caught up with him after the game. I was determined not to be a jerk.

“Man, you were awesome,” I told him.

Kenny grinned at me. “Thanks, Nugget. I guess today was my big chance.”

“Yeah,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Awesome.”

I wished I hadn’t even watched.

* * *

When Eddie Bosko showed up on my doorstep the following Monday, he had some horrible news. His Math team had won the provincial championship and they were
going to Nationals in Toronto.

In two weeks.

“That’s the weekend we play Shoreline!” I gasped.

“I know,” he said, with a shrug. “But this is Nationals.”

How were we supposed to have an undefeated season if we both wouldn’t be able to play the number one team in the league?

“But Eddie —”

“Look, the guys won on Saturday, right?” he asked.

“Yeah, but it was a total fluke.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“Well, they weren’t playing Shoreline, were they? We’re doomed,” I groaned, ready to give up.

Eddie shook his head. “Look, you have two more tests. If you make that seventy-five percent, you’ll be back on the ice for the game.”

“Yeah, right. If Coach actually lets me play those guys,” I sighed.

“He’ll let you play, Nugget. He needs you.”

“You don’t get it. I haven’t grown any bigger and —”

“Get your dad to talk to him.”

“What good will that do?”

“Maybe all Coach needs is for your dad to sign a waiver or something. You know, like if the Sharks break your legs, he won’t sue the league or something.”

“Break my legs? Is this supposed to be helping?”

“Hey, all I can do is make sure you have the Math part covered. So, are you ready to get down to business?” Eddie asked. “Geometry isn’t exactly your strong point, so we need to get rolling.”

While I did my best not to think about the oval ice rink, Eddie drilled me on a bunch of stupid triangles. After
twenty minutes or so, when I was just starting to get warmed up, Wendy walked through the door. I stared at her for a second, feeling like there was something weird about her. Well, weirder than usual, anyway. I scanned her from head to toe, but other than a new jacket, I couldn’t see anything different.

“What, Nugget?” she asked.

“Nothing … you just …” And that was when it hit me.

She was
smiling
.

I glanced at Eddie, who looked totally stunned.

“That’s my brother’s jacket,” he said, quietly.

“Yeah, it’s Shane’s,” Wendy said, shrugging.

I couldn’t help noticing her face was awfully pink.

“Why are you wearing it?” Eddie asked.

“He let me borrow it. I was cold in the car and —”

“He gave you a ride home?” Eddie almost choked.

“Duh,” she said, walking toward the kitchen.

“From school?”

Wendy stopped again. “No, from McGinty’s, if you must know.”

“McGinty’s restaurant?” Eddie’s face was turning red and the whole situation was getting more awkward by the second.

I decided to steer us back to the reason he was there. “Why don’t we get back to work here and —”

“McGinty’s restaurant?” Eddie asked her again.

Oh, brother.

“What’s your deal?” Wendy asked.

“Was it, like … a date?” Eddie barely got the words out.

Wendy rolled her eyes. “It was like a piece of lemon meringue pie and a hot chocolate.”

I felt Eddie relax next to me. That is, until Wendy said,
“The date’s on Friday.”

He stiffened up again and when Wendy walked into the kitchen, he just sat there.

“Ready?” I asked, anxious to move on to the real issue of mastering math and getting back on the ice.

“They’re dating,” he said, softly.

“I guess,” I said, shrugging.

Eddie stared at his hands. “Shane and Wendy.”

I didn’t need a refresher. “Yeah. Your brother and my sister. Weird, eh?”

My tutor started slowly closing his books and loading them into his backpack.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’ve got to go.”

“What? Go where?” I asked. The test was only a few days away!

“I’ve just … I need to get out of here,” he said, reaching for his pens and pencils.

“But we just started and —”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” And with that, Eddie Bosko walked out the front door.

What was I supposed to do? I stared at the textbook.

I only had four stinkin’ days!

“Your pet gorilla left?” Wendy asked, coming out of the kitchen with a glass of milk.

“Yeah, thanks to you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.” I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I had to blame someone.

“I didn’t do anything,” Wendy snapped.

“You went out with his brother.”

“So?”

“So, he’s in love with you!”

“That kid? Your tutor?” She laughed.

“Yeah.”

“Nugget, he’s eleven.”

“Almost twelve.”

“And Shane is
seventeen
. He can drive, for crying out loud.”

“I know, but —”

She shook her head. “Why would that kid be in love with me?”

“I don’t know, Wendy. You’re asking the wrong guy. Geez, you’re my sister, and even if you weren’t, I don’t want anything to do with girls.”

“In love with me, eh? Interesting,” she said, starting to climb the stairs.

“Just be nice to him when he comes over, okay?” That is, if he ever walked through the door again. “I can’t pass Math without him.”

I doubted she was even listening.

The next day, Eddie suggested we study in the library for a change, and that was totally cool with me. The less he was around my sister, the better my chances of passing.

* * *

That night, Dad made popcorn to snack on while we watched the Canucks smoke Anaheim, but I told him I had to study for my Math test instead.

“Good decision,” Dad said, filling a small bowl I could take to my room. “I’m going to miss watching with you, but you’re making the right choice.”

The right choice? When I heard him cheering at the television, I found that hard to believe. When I struggled through four pages of Math questions, I doubted it even
more. And when I took the test that Friday?

Well, that was the worst moment of the week.

I struggled all the way through, and second-guessed almost every answer. I went through half of an eraser in the first two pages! When I started freaking out, I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes for a few seconds, remembering the two hours I’d spent in the library with Eddie Bosko, just twenty-four hours earlier.

I’d left that study session feeling like I had a handle on Geometry, but guessed I was wrong.

I was totally lost.

With my eyes still closed, I pictured Eddie’s face across from me at the table, encouraging me.

I opened my eyes to keep going and after what seemed like only three minutes, Mr. Holloway told me, “Time is up, Mr. McDonald.”

“I just have one question left.”

“Time is up.” He collected my paper and I stayed at my desk to wait again.

This time, I was prepared. I’d brought a book to read, called
Watching Carter
. It was written by the same author as
Over the Moon
, and it was really good, but not quite good enough to keep me from worrying about my test score. I read a whole chapter while I waited, and when I was done, I had no idea what I’d read.

So I started to read it again.

About halfway through, Mr. Holloway called me up to his desk. It was worse than the last time and I actually felt sick to my stomach.

“Unfortunate news,” Mr. Holloway said, holding the paper up for me to see.

I only got a seventy-one.

Nuts!

“That brings your average down to seventy-three and a half percent.”

Would he round up to seventy-four? I doubted it. “That means I have to get —”


Seventy-eight
on the final test.”

Double, triple and quadruple nuts!

“Seventy-eight,” I repeated, because I didn’t know what else to say.

I was going to have to study even harder, as if that were possible.

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