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Authors: W. C. Mack

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BOOK: Hat Trick
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“Yes, and apparently this boy has done some tutoring in the past, so I told his mother we’d be interested. Isn’t that right Jonathan?”

I almost had it. I could practically see the guy’s face.

“Sean McCallum!” I finally announced, totally relieved.

“What’s wrong with you?” Wendy asked.

“Jonathan?” Mum asked, looking worried.

“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head to warm my brain up a bit. “What did you say?”


Math
, honey. We know you’ve been struggling and this seems like the perfect solution, dropped right into our laps!”

Perfect solution?

“Solution for what?” I asked.

“This boy,” Mum told me. “This Eddie Bosko. He’s going to be your Math tutor.”

Chapter Four

I dropped my fork with a clatter, spraying bits of apple crisp onto Wendy’s shirt.

“Nice one, Nugget,” she snarled, racing into the kitchen to clean herself off.

Oh, brother. It was apples and oats, not toxic waste.

“What’s wrong?” Mum asked.

What’s wrong? My arch-enemy was going to “help” me!

“I don’t need a tutor,” I muttered. “And besides, shouldn’t a tutor be like … a teenager?”

“He’s a prodigy,” Mum said.

“Okay, I don’t even know what that is.”

“A young genius,” Dad said.

I rolled my eyes. “Great. Next I’m going to find out he’s Jean Ducette’s nephew.”

“What?” Mum asked.

“Nothing,” I sighed.

“Gord?” Mum looked to Dad for backup.

He swallowed his last bite of crisp. “There’s nothing wrong with getting some help, kiddo.”

“But —”

“Math is tough, and it’s going to get tougher in the next couple of years. I think a tutor is a good way to prepare for that.”

“But Eddie Bosko?” I groaned, then realized that saying the name out loud only made it worse.

“You’ve met him?” Mum asked, smiling like I’d just told her I aced a Math test.

“Yeah,” I sighed. “He’s on the team.”

“Well,” she said, smiling even wider. “That’s why I thought it was a good idea.”

“That’s exactly why it’s
not
a good idea,” I told her.

“What do you mean?” Mum asked, frowning.

“He’s …” I wasn’t sure how to explain it nicely, so I just went from the gut. “He’s a knuckle-dragging gorilla who probably eats second graders
and
their Math homework for breakfast.”

I heard Dad cough, but when I turned to look, I saw that he was actually choking on a laugh.

It wasn’t funny.

“I’m serious,” I told them. “He’s a total thug.”

“He’s an eleven-year-old, Jonathan,” Mum said, shaking her head.

“Trapped in a twenty-five-year-old’s body.”

“It can’t be that bad,” Dad said, still chuckling.

“Oh, it is. It definitely is. He’s a huge jerk. He thinks he’s going to take over as starting right wing and he actually showed up to practice in a Sharks jersey today, if you can believe it. He’s just a big, stinking jerk.”

“Who is?” Wendy asked, joining us at the table with big wet marks all over her shirt.

“Eddie Bosko,” I grunted.

“Right, Bosko,” Wendy repeated, scrunching her face up to think about it for a second. “Shane Bosko. Dark hair, dark eyes —”

“Does he look like the Missing Link?” I asked. “Because his brother does.”

“That’s enough,” Mum said, and her tone was almost as dangerous as the look she was giving me. “You are struggling in Math and need some help. This Eddie Bosko is a prodigy —”

“Do you have to keep bringing that up?” I muttered.

“And he’s a new kid in a brand new town. He’s probably lonely and —”

I couldn’t help snorting. The gorilla? Lonely?

Mom frowned at me. “You can both help each other out, Jonathan.”

“Give it a chance,” Dad said, smiling. “And don’t worry about having another right winger on the team. You’re a great player and a little competition might even boost your game a bit.” He smiled. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“Maybe,” I said, still doubtful.

“So, it’s settled,” Mum said, stacking her empty dessert bowl on top of mine so I could load them both in the dishwasher. “And now it’s time for you to tackle your homework.”

But when I walked into the kitchen and glanced at the calendar hanging on the wall, I saw that it was time to tackle something else.

It was the first of the month and there was still a chance my rotten day could improve.

Wendy came in to use the phone while I hurried to finish loading the dishwasher. When I was done I dug around the pens, tape and junk in the drawer under the
microwave before I found my ruler. Once I had it in my hand, I was ready for action.

“Yes!” I said, waving the little wooden stick.

Wendy stared at me like I was some kind of an alien, then shook her head. “It’s nothing,” she said into the phone. “Just my brother, being eleven.”

I ignored her and raced to the open doorway. “Hey Mum!” I shouted.

“Can you keep it down?” Wendy called after me. “You’re such a
dork
, Nugget.”

“J.T.,” I turned to correct her.

“Whatever,” she sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Mum!” I shouted again.

“Where’s the fire?” Mum asked, from the upstairs hallway. She was holding a half-folded towel and probably had three hundred more waiting for her in the laundry room. Wendy took more showers than my whole hockey team put together.

“It’s the first,” I said, flashing the ruler and a grin.

Mum’s lips tightened for a second, then she gave me a smile that seemed a bit stiff. “Hey, why don’t we do it next month. That way you’ll have a whole sixty days to measure, all at once.”

“Mum,” I sighed.

“Okay, okay,” she said, giving the towel one more fold and putting it on the top shelf in the linen closet.

“Yes!” I couldn’t wait.

Mum followed me into the kitchen, where I stood in my usual spot, next to the fridge. I made sure my heels and shoulder blades were as close to the wall as I could get.

“Stand still, Nugget,” she whispered, placing the ruler on top of my head and reaching for a pencil.

“J.T.,” I reminded her again. The nickname sure wasn’t catching on like I’d hoped.

I crossed my fingers for three centimetres, or maybe even four.

“Right,” she said, squinting as she made a mark.

So far, drinking milk wasn’t helping and neither were stretching exercises or “thinking tall,” and that stunk.

“You’re wiggling,” Mum said.

“Sorry,” I whispered, then held my breath.

If you flipped through our photo album, the first thing you’d notice was that in every single team picture since I started playing, I was sitting on the ice in front of everybody else. While they stood in a row behind me, I was cross-legged, holding the Cutter Bay Cougars sign in my lap. That’s because if the photographer lined me up next to the rest of the guys, I would have looked like the team mascot.

I’d been waiting for the growth spurt Mum kept promising for about three years, but nothing was happening. And I mean
nothing
. After all, we kept track.

I crossed my fingers even tighter as Mum stepped closer to the fresh pencil mark to write the date. I didn’t turn around to look, figuring it was probably bad luck.

“So?” I finally asked.

“Mmmm … a pinch,” she said, frowning a little.

That wasn’t good. “A pinch or a smidge?” I asked her.

She hesitated. “Well, it might be closer to a smidge, hon.”

I whipped around to check my latest measurement.

Nuts!

There was barely any space for Mum to write, because the new line and date was in the exact same spot as the month before. I was the same stinking height as thirty days ago! That wasn’t a smidge!

Of course, it could have been worse. Sometimes she had to measure me twice because it actually looked like I’d shrunk, and that was enough to keep me up at night. In seven months, I’d only grown two centimetres, and no matter how nicely Mum told me what a big change that was, two measly centimetres was nowhere near enough to make a difference.

“Great,” I groaned.

Ella Patterson and I were tied as the shortest kids in my grade. And even though we were the exact same height, she had the advantage. When she wore certain shoes or piled her hair on top of her head in a crazy bun thing, she was definitely taller.

What was I supposed to do, wear super-thick socks? Spike my hair?

“I’m sorry, honey,” Mum said, rubbing my back. After a minute she added, “I really think we should start doing this every two or three months.”

“No way,” I said stubbornly.

“Jonathan, it’s not worth getting upset over.”

I looked at her like she was crazy and she pulled me into a tight hug. I let her do it because sometimes you have to let Mums give you a squeeze. (And because I liked it.)

“You’re way taller than you were last year,” she whispered.

“So’s the front lawn,” I muttered.

Sometimes I hoped the growing I’d been missing out on would catch up with me all at once. I dreamed I’d wake up one morning and when I rolled out of bed, the floor would look like it was an escalator ride away. Even better, I’d be able to reach the kitchen cupboards without that stupid wooden stool.

Sure, I knew that if I grew a bunch overnight I’d be
awkward and uncoordinated, with zero control over my limbs. But if that magical miracle happened, believe me, I would figure out a way to adapt. If I had my turbo growth spurt, I’d tower over the kids at the bus stop and Mr. Su, who taught grade six P.E. and coached boys’ basketball, would be following me down the hallway during lunch hour, begging me to try out. Or maybe he’d skip the tryouts and automatically put me in as a starter because he was so awestruck by my mutant,
Guinness Book of World Records
height.

Of course, it goes without saying that I didn’t want to grow so I could play basketball.

After all, hockey was my life.

I could forget everything else when I was on the ice. Just like that morning, when I was out of breath, sweaty and feeling awesome. When I played, I was totally happy. It didn’t matter if we were running drills or beating the Lewis Lions (we always won by a landslide), or if there were only a couple of mums in the stands, sipping coffee and talking to each other instead of watching us practise. I could pretend I was at Rogers Arena, wearing a Canucks jersey and skating my tail off to win the Stanley Cup.

“Let me guess,” Dad said, opening the fridge. “Six centimetres?”

“I wish,” I groaned.

“Don’t worry,” he said, pulling out a carton of milk. He put it on the counter before patting my head. “You’re getting there, Nugget.”

“J.T.,” I reminded him as he filled a glass.

“J.T.,” he repeated, with a wink.

Wendy finally hung up the phone, checked the wall, then turned to face me. “You need to get over it,
J.T
. Enough
about your stupid height.”

Easy for her to say. My sister was already taller than Mum and worried about hitting six feet by seventeen. She was the star of the high school volleyball team.

“I know, but —”

“It’s about speed and skill,” she said.

“I have speed and skill,” I told her.

“So what are you complaining about?”

“Wendy,” Mum interrupted, with a warning tone. “Can you please finish folding the laundry upstairs for me?”

My sister started toward the door while I stared at the wall and wished the pencil mark was about a foot higher.

“If size means that much, maybe you should forget hockey and be a jockey,” she said as she walked by.

“Maybe you should be a giraffe,” I muttered.

She stopped in her tracks and glared at me. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” I told her, knowing from years of experience how easily she could pin me.

* * *

Back in my room, I tried to shake off my frustration and disappointment. Maybe I’d grow a bit extra in the next month to make up for it. Anything could happen, right? My day had been proof of that, considering King Kong was about to become my Math tutor.

I flopped on my bed and made it through the first two chapters of
Over the Moon
, totally surprised when I kind of liked it. In fact, I actually cared what would happen next and probably would have read even more, but I knew there was Math homework to be done.

Our assignment was a whole page of percentage calculations, and of course I had the make-up homework to
deal with too. I spent almost an hour messing around with the stupid percentages, and my brain felt like it might explode. When I finished, I wasn’t sure about all of my answers, but figured if I got half right, that would be good enough.

Fifty percent was a passing grade, after all.

I was just about to get started on my make-up assignment when I saw that it was three minutes past eight.

Nuts!

I pushed my chair back from my desk, grabbed
Shoot! Third Edition
, and ran down to the kitchen.

Wendy was leaning against the wall, yakking on the phone again. I dragged the stool across the room and climbed onto it so I could reach the radio on top of the fridge.

“What are you doing?” Wendy snapped.

It seemed obvious. “Turning on the radio.”

“I’m on the
phone
, Nugget.”

“It’s
cordless
, Wendy.”

“Nothing,” she muttered into the phone as she left the room. “Just my annoying little brother.”

I turned the dial until I found PUCK Radio and sat down at the table with my book and a notepad, ready to roll. After a commercial for Mattress Land, some guy named Big Danny Donlin came on the air, talking about the Anaheim Ducks trading Yuri Karanov for Paul McFarland
and
Chris Marchand.

It took a few minutes for him to mention the trivia contest, and when he did, I scrawled the number to call on my notepad.

The phone! Wendy was hogging the stupid phone!

Why couldn’t my family join the rest of the planet and get cell phones? I knew the answer, of course. I could
practically hear Mum’s voice in my head: “Because texting rots the brain.”

I looked around the kitchen in a panic until I heard Big Danny Donlin’s voice again. “Remember, folks, you can only win once.”

I stopped in my tracks, realizing I didn’t need the phone to call in for some random hockey book or jersey. Not when I could wait for a chance at the game tickets and a shot from centre ice.

I let out the breath I’d been holding.

Whew.

In the meantime, I figured the questions leading up to the big one would be the perfect practice for me.

After another batch of commercials, Big Danny Donlin was back. “Okay, sports fans, it’s time for tonight’s trivia question. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said to the empty room.

“What are you doing?” Dad asked, from behind me.

“Shh. It’s a contest,” I whispered, pointing to the radio.

BOOK: Hat Trick
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