Authors: W. C. Mack
Even though I knew I spent an equal amount of time in each of my classes, it seemed like I was always in Mr. Holloway’s room. Even worse, it seemed like I was always three or four steps behind whatever crazy lesson he was teaching in there.
While Mr. Holloway scribbled a bunch of numbers on the board, Carrie Tanaka walked up and down every row, collecting homework assignments. I had a bad feeling as I tried to smooth out the crumpled ball of equations I’d shoved in the bottom of my backpack. I had an even worse feeling knowing I’d spent recess playing street hockey in the school bus parking lot instead of doing my special make-up assignment.
I cringed at the wrinkled assignment I had completed. When I’d worked on it the night before, it seemed like getting half the answers right would be good enough. But if it was half right, it was also half wrong. Now
was the kind of depressing Math I could calculate.
The chance of Mr. Holloway giving me another make-up assignment was about zero percent.
So, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to use the next two minutes to try saving myself. I opened my textbook to the right page and tore some loose-leaf paper from my binder. Where was my pencil? I dug through the front pocket of my bag until I found it, but by then Carrie Tanaka was only two rows away. Two stinkin’ rows!
I had to work fast!
I licked my lips, which were suddenly dry, and read over the first question.
Surprise, surprise. It didn’t make sense. (To me, anyway.)
I read it again as Carrie turned into the row next to mine. The longer I stared, the more the numbers and letters started to look like the pictures of hieroglyphics we’d seen in Mr. Marshall’s class. Hieroglyphics it would take an archaeologist years to decipher.
And I was no archaeologist.
“Mr. McDonald,” Mr. Holloway said, making me jump in my seat. “You appear to be racing ahead of the rest of the class.”
Racing ahead? I was trying to catch up!
“No, I —” I gulped.
Please don’t make me write on the board
“I have yet to instruct you or anyone else to open their textbooks, and there you are, feverishly working.”
“And if you aren’t racing ahead,” he said, peering at me over the top of his glasses, “I certainly hope you aren’t trying to finish up an earlier assignment.”
“No, I —”
“Class, where is homework meant to be done?”
“At home,” almost everyone said at the same time, like a bunch of robots.
Even I whispered along, since he’d been training us since the first day of class.
He nodded and started walking down the aisle toward me. “Not in class, not at recess, not on the bus, or in the back seat of the family minivan.”
Had he been spying on me all year?
Carrie Tanaka gave me a sympathetic look and I handed over the crumpled assignment. She reached for the page I had just started scribbling on.
I held on to it and shook my head as Mr. Holloway continued, “Not in the minutes before class, and certainly not once class has begun.” He stood next to my desk. “Am I making myself clear, Mr. McDonald?”
“Yes,” I told him.
He glanced at the open page of my textbook and raised one eyebrow at me, just like Mum. “I don’t imagine I’m going to discover your make-up assignment among the sheets Miss Tanaka has just collected.”
I shook my head slowly instead of saying anything.
“Is that a negative, Mr. McDonald?”
“Yes … I mean, no,” I babbled. “I mean no, you will not find it.”
“It being the assignment that you requested to compensate for yet another uncompleted assignment?”
“Yes,” I told him, my voice barely a squeak.
Mr. Holloway sighed and started walking back toward the chalkboard.
At least he hadn’t made me go to the front of the class.
“Mr. McDonald?” he said, suddenly spinning around to face me.
“Yes?” I gulped.
“Please join me at the front of the class.”
Travis Cosgrove and Jason Kiniski both snickered as I shuffled past them on the way to certain doom.
“You can do it,” Kenny whispered.
Of course, he was worse than me at Math and was probably just relieved he wasn’t Mr. Holloway’s target.
When I stood at the board and faced the class, the thirty faces I’d known forever looked more like two hundred strangers. They were all staring at me and waiting for me to mess up. I didn’t have much time to think about it though, because Mr. Holloway was already throwing a bunch of numbers at me. I tried to follow the story of some friends stopping at a vending machine to buy a bunch of sandwiches. I’d seen vending machine sandwiches on the ferry, and I wouldn’t have paid a nickel for squished ham or dried out turkey.
But of course, that wasn’t the question.
What was the question? Something about a $20 bill and some change. Did he say 5 guys and 3 sandwiches? No, 6 sandwiches. My brain was like a tornado, swirling around in my skull. The room was totally silent. I wanted to count on my fingers, but I couldn’t decide whether my thumb represented a sandwich or a person.
Why couldn’t he ask me a
“We’re all waiting, Mr. McDonald.”
Did he think I didn’t know that? I would have rather been just about anywhere, even squished by a sumo wrestler or
slammed into the boards by Eddie Bosko. I glanced at my enemy, and he just stared blankly at me, the way he had before, like he had no idea who I was. Like he hadn’t spent that very morning trying to destroy me on the ice.
I turned to face the board again, and that was when I heard Eddie Bosko.
“Two-fifty,” he said, in that deep Dad-voice.
“Mr. Bosko, you have something to contribute?” Mr. Holloway said, frowning.
Eddie sighed. “The 6 sandwiches at $3.75 apiece will cost $22.50. The one guy can put in his 20 and the other 4 have to come up with the remaining $2.50. That’s the
Mr. Holloway looked like he’d just eaten something very sour. “And the
wasn’t directed toward you.”
Eddie Bosko shrugged and I half-expected him to ask, “So what are you gonna do about it?”
I stood at the board like a big dork, gripping my piece of chalk and waiting for someone to tell me what to do.
Mr. Holloway cleared his throat. “Take your seat, Mr. McDonald.”
I made it back to my desk in about two seconds flat, trying to figure out if Eddie Bosko had saved or humiliated me. As much as it shocked me, I was leaning toward saved.
For the rest of the class, I tried really hard to understand the problems Mr. Holloway worked through on the board and I tried even harder to understand why Eddie Bosko would help me.
* * *
When the bell rang, I grabbed my books and raced into the hallway to catch up with him. He was at least a foot taller
than the rest of the kids, so he was easy to follow. When he stopped at the drinking fountain, I waited for him to finish slurping and stand up straight. When he did, I kind of waved at him, then felt like an idiot and shoved my hand in my pocket.
He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and stared at me.
“I just wanted to say thanks for helping me in there,” I said, keeping my voice steady.
He didn’t say anything for about ten seconds, which felt like ten years.
I tried to smile.
He sighed, then said, “I got tired of watching you stand there with your mouth hanging open, like a flounder on the line, right before it gets nailed with a bat.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling my face turn red.
“It was kind of pathetic,” he said, then turned toward the cafeteria.
“Eddie?” I called after him.
“Yeah?” he asked, over his shoulder. He didn’t even bother turning around.
“You’re going to be my tutor, you know.” My cheeks were so hot they felt sunburned. “I need help with Math.”
He stopped and turned to stare at me again, long and hard.
“No kidding,” he said, then walked away.
* * *
Thankfully, my day got better in gym period, since Mrs. Ramsey let us play floor hockey. Five of the guys from the Cougars were in my class, and four of us ended up on one team, which meant trouble for the competition, especially the girls.
Hannah Richards and Molly Irving stood around,
twirling their hair and gossiping for almost the whole game. They only stopped talking long enough to scream whenever the bright orange puck whizzed past them at 500 kilometres per hour, which happened at least twenty times. The rest of the girls were pretty useless, too. I knew a bunch of them were good skaters, since I’d seen the Cutter Bay Ice Dancers practise at the rink, but skating was only one part of playing hockey and they sure were lame on the gym floor.
Why anyone would waste their ice time spinning around in a sparkly jumpsuit, flapping their arms and smiling, was a mystery to me.
“I’m open!” Justin shouted from right in front of the net.
He was always open, because he stunk.
Patrick passed me the puck and I took off down the floor.
“I’m open,” Justin shouted again.
If he kept announcing it, he wouldn’t be open for long.
“Nugget, down here!” he called to me.
I flicked the puck past Tamara, who barely even moved to intercept it, and it landed right at Justin’s feet. He took a huge swing at it, like he was playing
, and missed the puck completely. I lifted my stick and ran down the gym floor, watching in shock as Justin missed it again. The other kids were swarming like bees, and I only had a couple of seconds before someone was sure to steal the puck. I whipped in behind Justin, kind of like Eddie Bosko had done to me at that first practice, and took possession.
“Way to go, Nugget!” Kenny shouted.
J.T. was looking like more of a lost cause by the minute. I tapped the puck to the left, deked James Kwan out, then
zipped past Sean. There it was. The goal was tended by Erica Brioche, whose eyes were closed so tight she probably could have seen out of the back of her head. I could have made a big, dramatic goal, but I felt sorry for her. After all, she couldn’t help the fact that she was a girl.
Instead of whaling on it, I just nudged the puck past her for an easy point and my whole team cheered. It felt awesome!
After twenty minutes and fourteen more goals (five scored by me), Mrs. Ramsey blew the whistle to end the game.
I wished I could have played all day.
Me and the guys got changed in the locker room, high-fiving and cheering over our victory, then split up to go to our next classes.
I was already counting the hours until Big Danny Donlin’s radio show. I’d packed
Shoot! Third Edition
in my bag, and I peeked at it during Social Studies and French. Practise makes perfect, and what could be more perfect than a shot from centre ice? Nothing.
At lunch, I sat with Kenny and Colin and, as usual, I swapped my homemade oatmeal raisin cookies for Kenny’s Twinkie. Mum would have screamed if she’d seen me take the first big, bad bite.
“So, we’re two practices into the season. What do you guys think of Bosko now?” Colin asked.
Kenny glanced at me before answering, “He’s still a jerk.”
“A big jerk,” I added.
“But he can play,” Colin said, through a mouthful of his turkey sandwich. His Mum always made it with cranberry sauce, which was gross.
“Sure, he’s good,” I told him. “But he’s still a jerk.”
“Even at school,” Kenny said, shaking his head. “I said hi to him yesterday and he just kept walking.”
“I tried to be nice, too,” I told the guys. “But he just stares back.”
“Maybe something’s wrong with him,” Colin suggested. “Maybe he’s really dumb.”
I thought about whether I should spill the beans and decided it was better for them to hear it from me than someone else. “He’s actually a genius,” I sighed. “Well, in Math, anyway. He’s kind of going to be my tutor.”
“No way!” Kenny gasped.
“Yes way,” I told him. “Starting tomorrow.”
“But you don’t need a tutor.”
“Not as much as you do, Kenny.”
“Thanks a lot,” he said, elbowing me.
“Mum knows I’m having trouble with Math, so —”
“That’s brutal,” Colin said, his sandwich halfway to his mouth. “Your Mum must be pure evil.”
“Dude, she makes him eat multigrain bread,” Kenny told him. “She’s vicious.” He quickly glanced at me. “Sorry, Nugget. You know what I mean, though, right? She can be —”
“Actually, I like multi —” I started, but Colin cut me off.
“Tutored by the guy who wants to steal your position,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it.”
The truth was, I could hardly believe it myself.
After school, I walked home with Kenny but didn’t waste any time yakking on the corner, since I had work to do. The Red Wings game would be on at seven, so I only had a couple of hours before dinner to study for the trivia contest at eight and get my homework done. It was going to be tight.
After what he said at the water fountain, I’d decided that if Eddie Bosko wanted to be a jerk about my Math skills (okay, lack of Math skills), there was no reason I should give him extra ammo. And that meant trying to figure out as much Math as I could before the first tutoring session, which was scheduled for the very next day.
I poured myself a glass of milk and grabbed a couple of carob brownies from the Tupperware snack tub before heading upstairs to my room.
Trivia, then Math?
Nope. Math, then trivia.
Of course, I wanted to be ready for Big Danny Donlin’s
question of the night, but even I knew Math was more important right then, so I focused. And focusing meant I worked so hard and for so long on number crunching that I thought brain sweat was going to start leaking out of my ears.
It took me an hour to get through the first page of the Math assignment and my gut feeling was that I only had about half of the answers right again.
I took a break to go downstairs and refill my milk glass, figuring my brain could probably use the protein.
Back in my room, I turned to the second page and got to work. I wasn’t sure when Math had started to get so hard for me, but I wished I’d been paying attention when it did. Most of the other kids understood it, but I’d always been too busy thinking about other stuff in class. Like hockey.
I started to reach for
Shoot! Third Edition
, but stopped myself. I had to stick with Math.
Me and what was left of my melting brain were super relieved when Mum called us for dinner.
“Awfully quiet up there,” Dad said, handing me a bunch of cutlery so I could set the table.
“Homework,” I said, with a shrug.
“They’re really piling it on this year, eh?” he asked, grabbing some napkins and following me into the dining room.
“Kind of.” I scooted around the table, putting knives and forks in place while Mum and Wendy brought dinner out from the kitchen.
Mum had made meatloaf, and even though that’s the kind of thing most kids hate, hers was awesome.
“Mum,” I told her, in between mouthfuls, “this is so
good they could serve it in the school cafeteria.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” Wendy asked.
“Jonathan,” Mum said, raising her eyebrow.
Great, the language police were on duty. When did my dinner table turn into Mr. Holloway’s class?
“Sorry, I meant yes.”
Mum smiled and reached over to mess up my hair. “I’m glad you like it, honey.”
“I was hoping for chicken or something,” Wendy sighed. She hated meatloaf, but I was pretty sure it had more to do with the name than the taste.
She was picky like that. She hated Guy LaCroix from the Leafs, just because she couldn’t pronounce his name right. And he was an amazing hockey player! She wouldn’t touch the milk if she saw me drink from the carton. She wouldn’t let me have the front seat in Mum’s van. Ever. She wouldn’t say hi to me in public.
After the day I’d had, I was in no mood to deal with my big, moody sister. I squirted more ketchup onto my plate and dipped a juicy hunk of meatloaf into it.
“Ugh. How gross is that?” Wendy asked.
I thought about the time I’d walked into the living room and caught her by surprise.
“Less gross than swapping spit with Scott Cody,” I told her.
Wendy dropped her fork with a clang. “What?”
“Or maybe it’s Scott Cootie?” That was a good one! And I’d thought of it on the spot. I couldn’t wait to tell Kenny.
“Jonathan,” Dad warned.
“What?” I shrugged. “Meatloaf is way less gross.”
“You are such a twerp,” Wendy sneered.
“Just because I play ice hockey and you play tongue hockey?” Yes! Another zinger!
She gasped, then just sat there with her mouth hanging open.
If Eddie Bosko had seen her, he would have thought looking like flounders ran in my family.
“Are you going to let him get away with this?” Wendy asked, looking first at Mum, then Dad. Her braces were clogged with bits of green beans. Now
was gross, but I knew better than to point it out.
“Everyone just settle down and enjoy the meal,” Dad said.
“Did you even hear what he said?” Wendy asked. Her eyes were all bugged out and her face was bright red.
“Jonathan, I think you owe your sister an apology,” Mum said.
“For what?” I asked.
“Uh, being born?” Wendy snapped.
“Wendy,” Mum warned.
“What, he can say whatever he wants and I can’t?”
“These potatoes are fantastic,” Dad said, passing Wendy the bowl. “Didn’t Mum do a great job with dinner?”
Wendy ignored the bowl. “I can’t eat another bite until he apologizes.”
Mum and Dad both looked at me.
“Sorry,” I finally said. “Can you pass the beans?”
“That’s it?” Wendy asked.
I thought about it for a second. “And the pepper, please.”
“I meant your apology,” my sister growled.
“You can do better, Nugget,” Mum told me.
“J.T.,” I reminded her, then turned toward Wendy and
put on my most sincere expression, “Wendy, I’m sorry you sucked face with Scott Cody.”
“That’s it!” she shouted, shoving her seat back and standing up. “I’m not putting up with this.”
“Wendy, have a seat,” Mum said.
“Forget it,” she said, stomping upstairs like a typical teenage drama queen. When she slammed her bedroom door, the table was totally silent.
I started to take another bite of meatloaf, but stopped when I saw Mum staring at me.
“What on earth did you do that for?” she asked.
“You know perfectly well what,” Dad said.
“I don’t know,” I sighed. The truth was, part of me wanted to take my rotten day out on someone else, and Wendy was the closest target. Of course, I knew Mum and Dad wouldn’t understand that kind of explanation, since they thought being eleven was easy.
“Well, as soon as you’re finished with dinner, you’re going straight to your room.”
I checked the clock and saw that it was 6:37.
“Until the game starts?” I asked.
Mum actually snorted with laughter. “You aren’t watching the game tonight.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!
“After what you just pulled with your sister, there’s no way you’re watching hockey.”
All of the air left my body. She had to be kidding.
“But … but it’s the Red Wings.”
“And then it’s the Oilers, the Rangers, the Bruins,” Mum
said, counting them off on her fingers. “That’s not the point.”
She had the schedule all messed up, but that wasn’t the point either. I looked toward my only hope, but Dad was shaking his head. “I’m with Mum on this one.”
“Are you kidding me?” I gasped. It was the Red Wings!
“Finish your dinner before it gets cold,” Mum said.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t hungry. Not even for meatloaf. I pushed my food around on my plate for a few minutes, trying to make it look like I was eating something, but I wasn’t fooling anyone.
Mum and Dad chatted about their busy days at work, as if they hadn’t just destroyed my life. Well, my evening, anyway.
“May I be excused?” I asked, when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Yes,” Mum said. “And please clear your sister’s place, as well as yours.”
I carried the dishes into the kitchen, then rinsed them and loaded the dishwasher. When I passed the table again on the way to my prison cell, Dad said, “Be sure to offer your sister a real apology on your way up.”
“I will,” I mumbled.
I climbed the stairs and stopped at the top for a second or two before knocking on Wendy’s door. I could hear music, so I knocked louder.
I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry,” I said, through the door.
“Go away,” she growled.
So I did. I went to my room and flopped on the bed with my textbooks piled around me. I didn’t feel like doing anything, especially homework. I flipped through my Math assignment again, then opened
Over the Moon
Before I knew it, almost an hour and a half had flown by, and that seemed crazier than the rest of my day put together. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never been “lost” in a book before, but I actually liked reading it. Mrs. Foster would probably collapse when she found out I’d read ahead.
I glanced at the clock.
Big Danny Donlin was coming on!
I jumped off the bed and ran downstairs, where I could hear the game on in the living room. It was like a gigantic magnet was on the other side of the wall, trying to pull me in, but I couldn’t watch. When Mum and Dad said no, they really meant it. I froze for a second, trying to hear the score at least, but Dad had it turned down too low.
I hurried into the kitchen and climbed on the stool to reach the radio. I hit the power button, then had to scramble to turn the volume down. I rolled the dial through mini blasts of news and music until I was on PUCK Radio.
My whole body was tense.
The radio station was broadcasting the game!
Of course, Mum and Dad hadn’t said anything about not being allowed to
to it, but I was pretty sure that was a no-no. Even tuning in for the contest was pushing my luck.
“And now that we’ve got a commercial break in the game,” Big Danny Donlin said, practically into my ear, “let’s get to tonight’s question.”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“For a signed copy of Kenny McElroy’s
, we are looking for caller number seven to tell us which team
drafted Brett Hull.”
First Bobby Hull, now Brett?
This time, I knew the answer, right away. I’d read it in
Shoot! Third Edition
during Social Studies!
The Calgary Flames.
It was only a second or two before a call came in. Man, if people were dialing that fast, I was going to have to start practising punching in the station’s number so I’d be ready on the big day.
“Who’s on the line?” Big Danny Donlin asked.
“Chris from Comox.”
“Hello Chris from Comox. Do you have an answer for me?”
“The Calgary Flames,” I whispered.
“Yeah, I do. It was the Blues.”
“Ouch,” Big Danny Donlin groaned. “No it wasn’t. Next caller?”
A woman’s voice said, “This is Fran from Parksville.”
“And the answer is?”
“The Calgary Flames?” she asked.
“You’ve got it!” said Big Danny Donlin.
I clicked the radio off with a smile, happy I had it right.
With Dad’s help the night before, I was two-for-two. A hundred percent, if I felt like putting a Math spin on it. I could practically hear myself winning the contest. I could hear the crowd cheering as I moved to centre ice. I could hear my heart pounding as I lined up my shot.
I could hear Mum asking Dad if he wanted anything from the kitchen!
I jumped to the floor, as quiet as a cat, and pushed the stool back into place.
I tiptoed past the den and ran upstairs as quickly and quietly as I could. And when I was safely behind my closed
door, I moved
Shoot! Third Edition
to my bedside table and made myself open my Math textbook.