Authors: W. C. Mack
I woke up the next morning at five o’clock and was halfway out of the bed, my toes curling from the cold, when I realized it was Thursday.
That meant no practice, which stunk.
I slipped my nearly frozen foot back under the covers. Sleeping in, on the other hand? That didn’t stink a bit. I pulled the blankets tight around me and rolled toward the wall to fall back asleep. Maybe I could finish my dream about skating circles around Eddie Bosko. I’d woken up just as it was getting really good. I closed my eyes and imagined coming to a quick stop and spraying ice in his face. Perfect.
What seemed like three seconds after I fell asleep, Mom was knocking on my door.
“Time for school,” she said.
Already? Sure enough, when I rubbed my eyes and looked at the glowing red lights of my alarm clock, I saw that it was already seven.
I’d slept for two whole hours and it felt like I’d barely blinked. I rolled out of bed with a groan and tripped over a pile of dirty laundry that must have sprouted up overnight.
I rubbed my eyes, thinking of sprouts as I stared at the pile by my feet. If dirty clothes sat for long enough, could something actually grow on them? I frowned.
Kenny swore the running shoes he’d left soaking wet on his back steps last spring had
on the laces. How gross was that? Gross enough to make me pick up the pile and dump it into the laundry hamper, figuring I was better safe than sorry.
I left my pyjamas on the bathroom counter and climbed into the shower. Just as I was getting the shampoo out of my hair, I heard the toilet flush again. I wasn’t fast enough to get out of the spray and I got scorched, right on my ribs.
“Yowch!” I gasped, squishing myself into the tiled corner to escape from the steaming water.
I was going to have to talk to Mum about this. I waited a few seconds and dipped my fingers under the spray. Whew. Back to the right temperature. I moved back into position and the toilet flushed again.
This time, the scalding water got my shoulders.
“Urgh!” I grunted, cramming into the corner again to wait it out.
When it cooled down, I tried again. Another flush.
,” I shrieked.
Shampoo dripped into my eyes and they stung like crazy. I rubbed them with the backs of my hands while I was squished in the corner, but that only made the stinging worse. When I reached out to check the temperature, the
water was still way too hot. I couldn’t reach the showerhead to turn the spray away from me, so the only choice was to turn it off at the tap.
Great. Dad would be singing the tiny bubble song again.
I was totally ticked off and I practically ripped the shower curtain open, trying to find a towel to wrap around my waist. It hurt to open my eyes and when I did, I could only squint, but that was enough.
Standing next to the toilet, fully dressed, with her book bag on her shoulder and a glare just for me, was Wendy.
“Too bad. I was ready for another flush,” she said, letting go of the handle.
“That was you every … I got totally … what did you do that for?”
She smiled. “Payback.”
“For what?” I asked, trying to wipe the shampoo out of my eyes again.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked, jaw dropping open.
I stared at her with one eye. The other one was too busy oozing shampoo to shoot her a dirty look. “Never mind,” I said.
“What? You’re the one who blinded me!”
“And you’re the one who told Mum and Dad about me and Scott.”
“But it was true.”
“It was last year, Nugget, and they didn’t need to know about it.”
“Just like they don’t need to know that you were creeping around in the kitchen last night.”
“Fine,” I said.
She looked at me for a few seconds, waiting for more. But more what?
“Fine,” I said again. She’d made her point.
My sister rolled her eyes. “Okay, that’s not an apology either.”
“I’m sorry, Wendy,” I said, as sincerely as I could while goose bumps popped up all over my body.
“Apology accepted,” she grunted, turning to walk out of the washroom. She was a dangerous one, that was for sure.
I waited until I knew she was downstairs before I turned the water back on. By that time, Mum had the dishwasher or something running, so my shower was only lukewarm.
It wasn’t a great start to the day, and my tutoring session with Eddie Bosko meant it probably wouldn’t end well, either.
* * *
When I was finally dressed, I trudged into the kitchen, wishing I’d had practice that morning so I could have taken all my frustrations out on the ice.
I sat at my usual spot and spread butter on the blueberry waffle that was waiting for me, before loading it up with syrup. As soon as I tasted the first mouthful, I felt a bit better. After all, how bad could life be if something that awesome was just sitting there, ready to be eaten. I cut off another bite and ran it through a puddle of syrup before shoving it into my mouth.
Mmmm … syrup.
My hero Jean Ducette’s family was in the maple syrup business, and that made me love it even more than I already did. He was from a tiny town in Quebec, where his family had lived for over a hundred years. A whole century!
He had eleven brothers and sisters, and the kids used to be called the Ducette Dozen.
When he was growing up, the whole family worked to collect sap in the spring. They had these things called sugar shacks where they boiled it to make syrup. They had a big party while they worked and even poured maple syrup on ice to eat for a treat!
When Jean grew up, he was an awesome hockey player and he had to decide between the NHL and the syrup business.
I knew what I’d pick, and it involved a puck. Lucky for me (and the Canucks), he picked hockey, along with three of his brothers, and all four of them became professional players! Their dad had to be the proudest guy on the whole planet. In fact, he was so proud, he made limited edition maple syrup bottles shaped like each of the boys, and sold them at Christmas.
I talked Mum into buying me the Jean Ducette bottle at Safeway one day. Even though the syrup is probably awesome, I’ll never open it. It’s way too valuable to eat.
I took a bite of my waffle and closed my eyes while I chewed. My mum was the absolute best cook on the island. I took another bite. Make that the planet.
“Good?” she asked, drying her hands with a tea towel.
My mouth was full, so I gave her a thumbs up.
“I’m glad,” she said, with a laugh. “I’ll make some cookies for you and Eddie to munch on this afternoon.”
I stopped chewing. Eddie Bosko probably ate cast iron, not cookies.
“He’ll be here at three-thirty,” she added.
I almost choked. “Here?” I gasped, through the waffle.
Mum looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course, here. You guys are going to be studying together.”
I swallowed hard. “But here?”
I thought we’d meet at the school library or something. It was bad enough that he was in my locker room and my classroom. Did he really have to be in my living room too? Or my bedroom?
I didn’t want him to come over and see the “cute” framed photos of me at every age as he climbed the stairs. I didn’t want him to give Mum and Dad the same blank stare he gave me all the time. I didn’t want him to watch Wendy make fun of me.
I didn’t want him in my house at all!
It was totally crazy.
Batman didn’t invite the Joker to his bat cave. Superman didn’t have Lex Luthor over for Sunday dinner. There was no reason the gorilla should even knock on my door, let alone walk through it.
“Are you feeling okay, honey?” Mum asked, reaching over to lay her hand on my forehead.
Aha! Maybe that was my ticket to freedom! If I told her I was sick, I could stay home from school and Eddie Bosko could stay out of my life, at least for a day.
But when I glanced at Mum, I knew I was kidding myself. She’d have the tutoring rescheduled so fast, my head would spin.
“I’m fine,” I told her. I dug into the rest of my waffle, but it had kind of lost its flavour.
Eddie Bosko had actually stripped the taste out of blueberry waffles, without even trying.
* * *
I met Kenny outside for the walk to school in drizzling rain. We pulled up our hoods, since only girls carry umbrellas.
“That game was awesome,” Kenny said.
“What game?” I asked, still distracted by thoughts of Eddie Bosko.
“Duh, Nugget. The Red Wings last night? We destroyed you!”
“Oh,” I sighed. “I didn’t get to watch.”
Kenny turned to stare at me. “What do you mean?”
“I had to spend the whole night in my room, doing homework.”
“I was mean to my sister.”
“Did you kill her?”
It was my turn to stare. “No! Are you crazy?”
He shrugged. “Well, that’s the only thing I can think of that’s bad enough to miss the game.”
“We just had a fight at dinner.”
“What’s wrong with you? She’s a girl, Kenny.”
He shrugged again.
“Look, I was rude to her, okay?”
“And you missed the whole game for that?”
“For being rude? Man, I wish my brother lived at your place.” He shook his head. “He’d be grounded forever. Did you at least get to listen to PUCK?”
“Yeah, I snuck downstairs for the trivia question.”
“I didn’t get it.”
“I did,” I said, proud of myself.
“Cool. Did you try calling in?”
“I’m waiting for the last day. I want to win the game tickets.”
“And the shot from centre ice,” Kenny said, nodding.
“You know, everyone’s going to be trying for that, Nugget.”
“J.T.,” I said automatically, then shrugged. “Somebody has to win. Why not me?”
Kenny was quiet for a few seconds. “I guess you’re right.”
He didn’t sound very sure, but I decided to believe him anyway. The way things had been going, it could be the only time I was right all week.
* * *
My day went pretty smoothly, especially English class. For the first time that year, I was the kid with a hand up to answer questions, and I even asked two of my own. Mrs. Foster looked like she might fall over from shock when she realized I’d actually been reading
Over the Moon
. Star of the class Annie McHale stared at me like I was from outer space.
“I didn’t even know you could read,” she whispered.
“Thanks a lot,” I whispered back.
When it was time for Social Studies, I did okay there, too. Mr. Marshall didn’t call on me, but I knew the answers to four of his questions, anyway. It was a good thing I’d cracked the Socials book after Math the night before.
Apparently, studying worked.
At lunch me and the guys ate as fast as we could, then headed to the gym to play a little pickup game. My team won by a landslide, and after all of the rotten stuff that had
been happening, it seemed like things were finally going my way.
Of course, knowing Eddie Bosko was coming over still drove me nuts, but after a good day at school, I felt like I could handle it, and handle him. When I really thought about it, I knew he was just a kid my own age, who happened to be good at hockey and Math.
What was the big deal?
“What’s the big deal?” Kenny asked on the walk home. “The big deal is that he’s a huge jerk, trying to steal your place on the Cougars.”
“And I’ll do my best to defend it,” I told him.
“Oh, man,” he said, slapping his forehead. “We’re talking about a kid who can bench press 150!”
One fifty! “Who told you that?”
“And how does Omar know?” I asked.
Kenny frowned. “I think Jeff told him.”
“And how does Jeff know?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Look, Eddie Bosko might be big and he might be strong, but he’s still an eleven-year-old.”
“Who shaves,” Kenny added.
“He does not,” I said, rolling my eyes. From what I could tell, Bosko was keeping the mustache.
“Well, you’re either brave or stupid, having him over to your place.”
“Now the guy is going to know your weak spot.”
“Math?” I snorted. “He’s in our class, Kenny. It’s not exactly a secret.”
And that’s when it hit me.
had a weakness.
Mine was Math, Kenny’s was spiders (and common sense), Mum’s was chocolate, Dad’s was computers, and Wendy’s was Scott Cody.
Even Superman had a weakness, so that got me wondering.
What was Eddie Bosko’s kryptonite?
I lay on my bed, flipping through the pages of
Shoot! Third Edition
and waiting for Eddie Bosko to show up and destroy my afternoon. When the doorbell rang, I shut the book, closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath before standing up.
I stopped at the top of the stairs and saw that Mum had already let the gorilla into the house. She was actually smiling as she took Eddie’s jacket, like he was a normal person. Like he was welcome.
“Hey,” I said, hurrying down the stairs.
The sooner Mum was out of the way, the less possible embarrassment I’d have to deal with.
“It’s so nice of you to come over and help Nugget,” she said, slipping the jacket onto a hanger.
“J.T.,” I sighed.
Mum winced. “Sorry, honey. I’m working on it.”
“Nugget?” Eddie asked, raising an eyebrow and looking at me.
He hadn’t heard the rest of the team calling me that?
Maybe he never listened. “I was trying to get J.T. going, but —”
His eyebrow didn’t move.
“Nugget works, I guess,” I said, shrugging.
That was the moment I totally gave up on trying to change my name. I was Nugget McDonald, whether I liked it or not, and I’d just have to accept it.
“I’ll grab some cookies and I’ll leave you boys to it,” Mum said, disappearing into the kitchen.
“Cookies?” the gorilla asked.
Both of the eyebrows were raised. I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of the idea or not, so I pretended I didn’t hear him.
“We can sit over here, I guess,” I said, tilting my head toward the dining room table.
“Why don’t we just go to your room?” Eddie Bosko asked.
Because I’d rather die?
“Mine? I, uh … it’s kind of a mess,” I stammered.
“A mess,” he repeated, with that blank stare I hated.
“Yeah, a mess. As in messy.”
The big Math genius sure had his problems with English. He wasn’t going to see any more of my personal life than he had to. I’d already decided this was business. Math business, and nothing more.
I pulled out a chair and sat down.
After a few seconds, Eddie Bosko did the same, right across from me.
I stared back.
He still stared.
“So?” I finally asked.
“Where are your books?”
I’d left them in my room.
I ran upstairs to get them, and when I returned, Eddie Bosko smirked at me. We were off to a great start.
“Here we go,” Mum said, carrying a tray with two tall glasses of milk and a plate of peanut butter cookies in from the kitchen.
“Thanks, Mum,” I said, hoping she’d make a fast exit.
I breathed a sigh of relief when she wiped her hands on her apron and left the room.
Eddie looked the cookies over.
“You’re not allergic to peanuts, are you?” I asked, hopefully. Maybe that was his kryptonite!
“No,” he said, reaching for two of them.
“Are you allergic to anything?” I asked.
“Am I what?” He stared at me like I was a flounder again. “No.” He grabbed two more, as if the word “sharing” wasn’t even in his vocabulary.
“Not even dogs or penicillin or something?”
“No.” He opened his textbook and started flipping through the pages, like he was already bored.
I cleared my throat, ready to dig deeper. “You know what I hate?” I asked.
“Math,” he said, without looking up.
“No, well, yeah, but snakes, too.”
The blank stare was back.
“What about you?” I asked.
He paused. “What about me?”
“Do you hate snakes or … anything?”
He was silent for about thirty seconds while I felt my armpits getting sweaty. His stare-down was worse than Mum’s, and that was saying something.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I tried again. “Spiders? Or clowns —” I stopped myself.
Man, I was getting desperate.
“You don’t hate anything?” I asked.
“Yeah, there’s something I hate,” Bosko finally said.
“Really?” I practically shrieked.
“Questions,” he said.
I cleared my throat, awkwardly. “Oh.”
“Look, do you want to learn Math or not?” he asked, checking his watch. “I get paid by the hour, so it doesn’t matter to me.”
What? Mum was
him? Just when I thought the situation couldn’t get any more embarrassing, there it was.
“I guess so,” I told him, wishing I was anywhere else on the planet, and that included Mr. Holloway’s classroom.
“Because I’ve got other stuff I could be doing right now, like working on my slapshot.”
That got my attention.
If getting paid to help me meant that he wasn’t practising, it was money well spent, wasn’t it? Except that I wasn’t practising either. Working on his slapshot, eh? Had he just revealed his weakness? That would be very convenient, because my slapshot just happened to be … awesome.
“Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s get started.”
“Sure.” I opened my textbook and glanced over to see what page he was on.
“What’s your problem?” Eddie asked.
All I did was look at him! My face felt hot again. “My, uh …
I don’t have a problem.”
He sighed with what I knew from living with Wendy was exasperation. “With
, I mean. What don’t you get?”
Oh, that problem. How was I supposed to sum it up? I didn’t get what Mr. Holloway wrote on the board. I didn’t get the homework. I didn’t get —
“Fractions? Percentages?” he asked.
Yes and yes.
“Word problems are pretty hard, I guess,” I finally said. They were the most confusing, anyway.
“Not really, but okay. We’ll start there.” Eddie flipped further into his book and told me to turn to page seventy-eight.
“Read over problem number one first,” he said.
“Jane and Susan are —”
“Not out loud.”
“Oh, right,” I mumbled, then read the most confusing sentence of my life. Who was Susan, and why weren’t she and Jane travelling together?
“So?” he asked, when I was done.
“I don’t even know where St. Hubert is,” I told him.
Eddie Bosko shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“But —” I pointed to the question.
“None of it matters. This isn’t a Geography test. All we care about are the numbers.”
“How many people are we talking about?”
Susan and Jane. “Two.”
He nodded. “And how many different distances?”
I read the question over again: 400 kilometres, 70 kilometres, and 210 kilometres. “Three.”
“Then that’s all we need to concentrate on. Get it?”
“I guess,” I lied. That seemed way too simple.
“The rest of it, like the names and all that? They’re only there to confuse you.”
What was the point of that? Wasn’t Math confusing enough already?
“Okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, but I wasn’t so sure.
Eddie sat forward in his seat and stared.
“So, what do we care about?” he asked.
Surviving the afternoon. “Numbers?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He actually smiled (not wide enough to show the fangs I was sure were there, but it was something) and reached across the table to punch me lightly on the arm. “
We worked through the problem together and when we got the answer, it kind of made sense. Kind of.
“Okay, next one,” Eddie said, pointing to the second word problem.
I read it, but was confused about whether we were supposed to be figuring out how far Winnipeg was from Moose Jaw, or how long it would take to get there.
“Get started,” Eddie said.
“I’m, uh … not sure where to —”
The cold stare was back, this time with a groan. “We did one just like this, two seconds ago.”
“I know, but it’s different information and —”
“It doesn’t matter,” he growled. “We only care about the numbers. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“Yeah, but —”
“Why don’t you get it?”
Was he kidding me? Did he honestly think figuring out one measly problem was going to solve everything?
“Nugget,” he sneered.
“Look,” I growled back. “It’s not like I’m going to master it in one stinking try. It’s going to take practise.” I thought of his kryptonite. “Just like you have to practise your slapshot.”
Eddie Bosko looked like me might punch me, but he spoke instead. “My slapshot kills. It’s the most accurate in the league, okay?”
Nuts. Not what I wanted to hear.
“Fine,” I muttered.
“Pretty soon, no one’s going to be able to stop it.”
“Great.” I shrugged like it didn’t matter, but it did.
“Because I’m working on speed. Every afternoon, from five until six, I whale on a puck in the backyard.”
“Good for you,” I grunted.
“Now, do you want to figure out this problem or not? It doesn’t matter to me, since —”
“I know,” I sneered back. “You get paid by the hour.”
“That’s right,” he said, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed.
Another silent stare-down between us. I lost again, breaking eye contact and looking back at my textbook. I read over the problem again, and it still didn’t make sense.
, man,” Eddie said, checking his watch again.
I was getting seriously ticked off. After all, he was supposed to be helping me.
Eddie tilted the chair back, so it was balancing on the back two legs and it creaked like it might break.
“Hey, my Mum doesn’t like us to do that,” I told him.
“So cut it out.”
“Make me,” he said, with a laugh.
I was about to jump up and do just that when Wendy walked in from the kitchen. She barely looked at us, but as she walked behind Eddie Bosko, she shoved his chair forward.
Eddie had to catch himself so he wouldn’t slam face-first into the table.
“Hey,” he snapped, spinning around in his seat to confront her. “What’s your —”
“It’s a chair, not a ride, you moron,” Wendy said, and kept walking.
Eddie Bosko watched her go, his mouth hanging open for a change.
Who’s the flounder now?
I almost started laughing, but held it in.
“Who was that?” he finally asked.
“My sister.” I told him. Obviously.
He didn’t say anything else, but sat there with a dazed look on his face. I was willing to bet no one had ever dared to call Eddie Bosko a moron before. And lived, anyway.
“So, we’re trying to figure out how long the trip takes, right?” I asked.
“Huh?” Eddie grunted.
“The problem. It’s about travel time, not distance.” I waited. “Isn’t it?”
“I guess,” he said, looking toward the stairway. “What’s her name?”
“Uh,” I scanned the question again. “It’s just guys. Mark and Paul.”
“No, your sister.”
“What’s her name?”
“Wendy,” I told him, as I continued to read.
If Mark was leaving Winnipeg at eight in the morning and wanted to meet Paul in Regina, how long was it going to take him to get there?
“Does she have a boyfriend?”
I glanced up at Eddie Bosko, who was still watching the stairs. “Wendy? I don’t know. I think they broke up or something.”
“How old is she?”
He spun around to face me. “Sixteen?”
“Yeah, you know. The one that comes after fifteen.” I tried to get back on topic. “If Mark was going 70 kilometres an hour —”
“Does she go to Cutter Bay?”
What was his problem? “Last time I checked, it’s the only high school here.”
We got back to work, and after a few more questions, I felt like I was actually starting to get it. I liked the way he had shown me to ignore all the extra details and focus on the numbers. The more we did, the more they made sense.
Wendy came downstairs and before I knew it, Eddie Bosko was pushing what was left of the cookies toward her.
Wendy looked at him, then at the cookies, most of which were broken. She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Not after you losers have mauled them.”
“They’re really good,” Eddie called after her, but she’d already disappeared into the kitchen.
I started to read out loud. “Claire and Samantha are selling Girl Guide cookies, and —”
“I’m thirsty,” Eddie said, pushing his seat back and standing up.
I pointed to his glass of milk. It was still half full.
“No,” he said, shaking his head and moving toward the kitchen. “I need some water or something. My throat’s really dry.”
This was getting suspicious.
When he came back, he had a glass of water and a red face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Your face is all red.”
We did a couple more problems and then the doorbell rang.
When I answered it, I found a teeny lady with a pointy nose and beady eyes on the front step.
“Hello there. I’m Mrs. Bosko,” she said.
The gorilla’s mother looked like a baby bird?
“Uh, hi. I’m Jonathan.” I opened the door wider so she could come inside.
“Are you ready?’ she asked Eddie.
“I guess so,” he said, packing up his bag. The whole time, he was staring at the kitchen door.
I grabbed his jacket from the closet, more than ready for him to leave. “Thanks for your help,” I told him, and actually meant it. I may not have had fun hanging out with him, but I
made some Math progress. “I’ll see you at school.”
I’d never seen anyone take so long to put a jacket on. It was like he was moving in slow motion.
“I can come over again tomorrow, you know,” Eddie said.
“No, you can’t,” Mrs. Bosko told him. “We’re having dinner at Grandma’s.”
Eddie Bosko not only had a mother, but a grandma?
“Maybe on the weekend?” he said to me, hopefully.
“I think we have some family stuff going on,” I lied. “Plus the game and everything.”
Eddie Bosko frowned.
Wendy walked in, the phone stuck to her ear. She walked past us and smiled at Mrs. Bosko with the sweet and innocent look she saved for adults. Eddie waved at my sister, who barely glanced at him and definitely didn’t wave back.