Authors: Sigmund Brouwer
Then Coach Smith noticed the wig on the floor. He reached up and touched his head. His fingers touched the skin of a bald head. His face began to turn purple. The coach's face only turned purple once or twice a season. It took something really, really bad to make Coach Smith's face turn purple.
Coach Smith opened his mouth to really, really yell at Johnny.
Then he shut his mouth. A funny look crossed on his face. He looked down at his shirt. Johnny looked too. He noticed something move inside Coach Smith's shirt. A little bump that was moving.
So that's where the mouse went
, Johnny told himself. It was in Coach Smith's shirt.
“It's a mouse,” he told Coach Smith.
“A mouse? In my shirt?”
The bump moved again.
“A mouse,” Johnny repeated. “From my hockey bag. You see, my mom put my equipment in the shed for the summer because it smells bad.”
“A mouse!” Coach Smith started to hit himself to try to get the mouse.
The bump moved farther down Coach Smith's shirt. Right down to his belt buckle.
Coach Smith hopped and hopped. He hit himself harder. But he kept missing the mouse.
Coach Smith finally screamed and ran out of the room. Everyone heard his screaming as he ran down the hallway.
It was very quiet in the dressing room after that. Too quiet.
Johnny picked up Coach Smith's wig and dusted the dirt off.
“Hi,” Johnny said to the new player as he dusted the wig clean. “Welcome to the Howling Timberwolves. As you can see, this team is like a big happy family.”
“Run everyone!” Tom Morgan yelled. “Danger!”
It was the day after the practice. Johnny Maverick was on the playground during recess. He was talking to his friend Stu Duncan about the hockey practice and the mouse. And how Coach Smith didn't think any of it was funny.
“It's a whale!” Tom yelled again. Tom was near Johnny and Stu. Tom was pointing at Stu as he yelled. “Everyone! Run away!”
“What is the new kid yelling about?” Johnny asked.
“I think he's calling me a whale,” Stu said. “In front of everyone in the school.”
“No, everyone, wait!” Tom yelled. “Whale season just opened. Get me a harpoon. I'll save us.”
“Hey,” Johnny said to Tom, “do you think you're funny?”
“No,” Tom said. “I think Stu is fat. And he looks like a whale.”
“Fat?” Stu said. He turned to Johnny. “Do I look fat? Don't lie to me. We're friends. I can take the truth.”
“No,” Johnny told his friend. “You don't look fat. Chubby. But not fat.”
“Do I have a blowhole on my back?” Stu asked. He took off his jacket and handed it to Johnny. “Give me a second to get my shirt off. You can have a good look at my back and tell me.”
“Please stop,” Johnny said. “If you have as much hair on your back as your dad, I will throw up. Besides I would have remembered a blowhole from all the times we went swimming in the summer. I do remember bubbles in the water, but I don't think they came from your back.”
“See,” Stu told the new kid. “I'm not fat. I'm chubby. And I don't have a blowhole, even though sometimes I can make bubbles in the water. So I can't be a whale. Maybe you need glasses.”
“Maybe I need a better left winger than you,” Tom said. “Yesterday in practice you should have scored five times with the great passes I gave you. But you missed all of them because you are too big and too slow.”
“They were great passes,” Stu said. “You are a very good hockey player, and we are happy to have you on the team. After only one practice, we all know you are the best player on the ice. Probably in the league. But you are still wrong about those passes.”
“Wrong?” Tom asked.
“You said I missed five passes because I am too big and too slow,” Stu said. “But I only missed
passes because I am big and slow. I missed the last pass because I was looking at the concession stand to see if they had any hotdogs left for after practice.”
“You're not taking this seriously,” Tom said. His face was tight with a frown.
“No,” Stu said.
“My insults don't make you want to play better hockey? To try harder? To maybe start looking for passes instead of hotdogs?”
“Not really,” Stu said. “I like hotdogs. Besides, your insults mean nothing to me. I've watched Oprah.”
“Oprah,” Stu said. “On TV. She had this episode about dealing with insults. I can't control what you say. Only how I react to it. Right, Johnny?”
“It was a good episode,” Johnny said, “but not as good as the one about cute girls who think they are ugly. Remember that one blond girl who went to school with a paper bag over her head?”
“I do,” Stu said. “She was really cute. I taped that episode.”
“Listen to me!” Tom yelled. “This is not about Oprah!”
“Oh,” Johnny said.
“Oh,” Stu said.
“This is about winning hockey games. In Toronto, I was in the elite league. I am used to playing with great players. I'm not used to losing. And I don't play with wingers who check out the concession stand in the middle of practice.”
“Welcome to the town of Howling,” Johnny said. “Now you get to experience new things. Like how much fun it is to be part of a team. Even if we lose sometimes.”
“Or worse, if the concession stand runs out of hotdogs,” Stu said. “You have to take the good with the bad around here.”
“You guys can't be serious for a second, can you?” Tom asked.
“One second at the most,” Stu said very seriously.
Stu waited one second with that serious look on his face.
Then he smiled. “See, one second. Then all my seriousness is gone again. I also have a short attention span to go along with my chubbiness. It's part of my charm.”
Tom didn't think that was funny. “Did your parents call you Stu because they knew you wouldn't be able to spell Stupid?”
“But I can spell idiot,” Stu said. “Listen carefully. T â O â M.”
“T â O â M?” Tom said. “That's how stupid you are. That doesn't spell idiot. That's how you spell Tom.”
“Oh,” Stu said. “Maybe I made a mistake because it is very hard to tell one from the other.”
Some of the other kids who were listening began to laugh.
“That's it!” Tom said. “Nobody calls me an idiot. Let's fight. Right now.”
“I think he's serious,” Stu said. “Look, he's making fists.”
Tom, the new kid, had his fists up.
“This doesn't build teamwork,” Johnny said to Tom. “I always want to hit him for all the bubbles in the water when we swim. But trust me, when you hit him, you just bounce off. I had to learn that the hard way.”
“I don't care,” Tom said. “He called me an idiot.”
“Actually,” Stu said, “it's more like you called yourself an idiot. Maybe you should punch yourself.”
Tom glared at Stu. Tom kept his fists up and started circling Stu. “Come on. Fight. Or are you chicken?”
“Make up your mind,” Stu said. “I can't be a whale
The kids around them laughed at this too. They all liked Stu.
“I don't know what school you came from,” Johnny said to the new kid. “But here in Howling, it is not smart to fight. The teachers don't like it. You have to stay in after school. They call the parents. You have to apologize to each other, even though you don't mean it. Stuff like that.”
“I don't care,” Tom said. “He called me an idiot.”
“And if you fight,” Johnny said. “They might not let you play hockey in tomorrow's game. Grownups around here really don't like fights on the playground.”
“Oh,” Tom said.
Tom dropped his fists and stopped circling Stu.
Tom shook his head. “It's not worth missing a hockey game because of an ugly whale like you.”
“Ugly hurts,” Stu said. “I can't deny the chubby part, but ugly...”
Johnny finally got mad, even if Stu wasn't upset at the insults. It wasn't right for Tom to talk like this. Stu was Johnny's good friend. But when Johnny got mad, sometimes he said things that weren't smart.
“You just wait until tomorrow's game,” Johnny said. “You'll see that Stu is a great hockey player. He might even score more goals than you.”
“Sure,” Tom said. “You bet. I'll wait. I'll even make sure to give him five more great passes. How about he promises to quit if he doesn't score a single goal?”
“How about just watch him score?” Johnny said.
Tom laughed a mean laugh and walked away.
“Why did you tell him I'm a great player?” Stu said to Johnny. “That's like telling people I'm skinny.”
“You're my friend,” Johnny said. “He made me mad.”
“He made you lose half your brain,” Stu said. “I hardly ever score goals, remember? What I do
is squish people into the boards but only the ones who are too slow to move out of the way.”
“Maybe tomorrow night you will get lucky and score some goals,” Johnny said.
“Sure,” Stu said, “and maybe the next time you drop a bowling ball on my foot, it won't hurt.”
“That was two months ago and I already said sorry,” Johnny said. “Some things you should just try to forget.”
“And other things maybe I should just quit,” Stu said. “Tom is right. I'm not good at hockey.”
“You can't quit,” Johnny Maverick said. “We have a small team in a small town. We need everybody.”
“Then what should I do? You told him I was going to score more goals than him. It would be better if I pretended I was sick tomorrow night and didn't play.”
“Don't worry,” Johnny said. “We'll figure something out.”
“You always say that,” Stu said. “And you're always wrong.”
“At least I never quit,” Johnny said. “And neither should you.”