Authors: Sylvia Olsen
“Excuse me,” Mr. Henthorn says. “If you boys don't stop talking, I'll have to separate you.”
Murphy throws Danny a look that says,
He waits until the teacher turns and begins to write on the board again and then whispers, “I'll find a phone somehow.”
The girl at the desk in front of Murphy's has been looking across at Danny and turning her head sideways so she can hear what Murphy is saying. Before Mr. Henthorn finishes writing, she slips a note onto Murphy's desk.
I have a cell phone. You can use it at recess if we make sure no teachers catch us.
Murphy turns the paper over and writes:
He passes it forward. She scribbles something and sneaks it back to him.
Meet me at the Region Street entrance as soon as the recess bell rings.
Murphy folds the paper and puts it in his pocket.
“No problem,” he whispers to Danny. “It's all good.”
Danny frowns. He doesn't know what just happened, but he doesn't interrupt the class again.
Murphy makes a plan: he'll call Mom at the Band Office, where she works, and ask her to go home from work and get his old shoes and a couple of extra jockstraps. She can bring them up to the school at lunch.
The old shoes will fit Danny, and no one will have to root around at Danny's and Albert's places. Mom will do it. Murphy's sure of it. She's as excited as any of them about the boys getting on the team.
When the recess bell rings, Murphy tells Danny about Molly's phone and his plan.
“Go tell Albert that I'll get all the gear we need for everyone. As long as Albert has his own shoes, we can make do with stuff I have around the house.”
Murphy's shoes will never fit Albert's big feet, and he isn't sure whether his jockstrap will fit him either.
Albert stands head and shoulders taller than Murphy.
But if it means he can practice, Albert will just have to suck it up.
Danny takes off, and Murphy heads to the front entrance, where the girl from math class is waiting.
“My name's Molly,” she says with a laugh. “But I guess you know that already. And your name's Murphy. I knew that before you told me. My dad told me that you and your mom moved back to the reserve last year. They used to be an item, you know.” She stops talking long enough for Murphy to wonder what she means. “Your mom and my dadâat least that's what Dad says. Sounds pretty funny, eh? An item. Dad and I have seen you before, but I can't believe we haven't met each other until now. We live in town. Down by the arena. We just moved there from over the other side of the river.”
“Really?” Murphy says. He's not quite sure how to respond, so he says, “Like you say, I'm Murphy,” which sounds pretty dumb.
“Oh, sorry,” Molly says. “I talk a lot.”
You sure are right about that
, Murphy says to himself. He thinks about a few other things he could say, but it's hard for him to find a space in Molly's constant flow of words.
“Here.” She hands him her cell phone. “Go around the side of the building and make sure no one sees you. They take your phone and call your parents if you get caught. That happened to me a few times. Dad's threatened to close my account.”
Murphy can't imagine Mom ever paying for a cell phone account for him.
Mom is okay with picking up the gear and delivering it to the school by the second lunch bell at 12:15. It turns out that Molly knows a lot about Mom, stuff Murphy has never heard about. Apparently when they were teenagers, his mom broke her dad Richard's heart when she dumped him. Richard moved away and married “The Blond Lady,” as Molly calls her mother.
She left the two of them before Molly had time to get to know her.
“I don't even know what she looks like, other than that she's blond like me. Dad doesn't have even one picture. At least that's what he says. Apparently she lives in New Brunswick somewhere. I'll find her one day,” Molly says. “Dad says if I look in the mirror and concentrate on my eyes, and lips that I'll see Mom in there somewhere. That's a pretty lame way to see your mom, don't you think?”
“Yeah,” Murphy says when she stops to take a breath. “Pictures are all I get to see of my dad.
Although Mom says I've got his ears and middle toes. Oh, and his light hair and pale skin.”
Molly laughs. It's more of a giggle than a laugh, and Murphy realizes he hasn't had a girl for a friend since he lived in town.
“Does that mean your dad has big ears?” she asks.
“What are you trying to say?” Murphy frowns and pretends to be insulted.
“I'm saying you don't have little ears.”
The two of them walk around the school looking for the boys, but they can't find them. Murphy tells Molly about the soccer team, the tryouts and the Formidable Four.
“We're the best thing to come from the tribal school since Uncle Rudy,” Murphy says, trying not to sound too high on himself.
“I know him,” Molly says. “He's a friend of my dad's.”
Murphy struts in front of Molly, “We're the fantastic Formidable Four from the Long Inlet Tribal School,” he says, beginning to feel comfortable.
“You don't look First Nations,” she says.
“Yeah?” he says. “Well, neither do you.”
“Where's Albert?” Murphy asks when Danny and Jeff arrive at his locker.
“He's trying to fit into your jockstrap,” Danny says with a laugh.
“Hey, it's not funny,” Murphy says. “At least he won't miss the tryout.”
On the way up to the field, Albert walks behind the others.
“What's up with you?” Danny says. “Having trouble with that little jockstrap?”
“Naw, it's okay. This place stinks,” Albert says. “I can't believe they make us wear full gear just for tryouts.”
“Get over it,” Jeff says. “We're gonna be on the team. That's the point, isn't it?”
“Yeah,” Danny says, and he turns to high-five Albert. “We're the Formidable Four.”
Albert ignores Danny and turns his back on his three friends. The rest of the boys who have come for tryouts are standing halfway down the field. They are close enough that Murphy can see every one of the players. There are a lot of themâtall ones, short ones, heavy ones, skinny ones. It's hard to say just from looking who's good and who's not. All he knows for sure is that Riverside won the British Columbia Middle School Championship last year, and he's starting to feel a little nervous.
The four boys stand in a tight huddle. Now that they are getting a good look at the other Riverside players, they all seem worried. If only Uncle Rudy was here.
“Hey, guys,” Jeff says. “Don't forget we only have one rule.”
Danny slaps Albert's back.
“One rule, cousin,” he says.
“And what's that one rule?” Murphy tries to sound like Uncle Rudy.
The boys look at Albert.
“Give 'er all you got!” he says halfheartedly.
The whistle blows.
“Over here, boys.” The coach hails them with his arms. “Welcome to the Riverside soccer tryouts. I'm Coach Kennedy. And these are my scouts, Miss Hansen and Mr. Paul.” He gestures at two young teachers standing beside him.
Everyone gathers around.
“We're going to have five games over the next two weeks. I'm going to count you off one-two, one-two to make teams. We're going to play fifteen-minute halves. My scouts and I are going to watch youâclosely.
“We'll get together at the end of the two weeks and decide among the three of us who gets on the team. No one is assured a spot. Players from last year have to show they are still interestedâno shoo-ins, no slackers, no bad attitudes. Now let's go: one-two, one-twoâ¦”
The boys shuffle around, trying to position themselves so they will get on the same team. Danny and Murphy end up on one team and Albert and Jeff are on the other.
“Ones at that end and twos at the other,” Coach Kennedy hollers. “Hold off a minute! I forgot. Keepers! Over here.”
Murphy runs over to the coach. Two other boys join him. One is as big as Albert and looks old enough to be in high school. The other one is small like Haywire. At first Murphy figures that the big boy is going to be his toughest competition. But Murphy can tell that the smaller boy is the one with the confidenceâand a confident keeper can be a good keeper, no matter what his size.
“Bingo,” Coach Kennedy says to the big boy, “I want you to my left in net and youâwhat's your name?”
“Okay, Murphy, you're in net on the right. Ahmed, you will sit out to start. I'll get Mr. Paul to sub you in later.”
Murphy only makes one save before Ahmed replaces him. While he's on the sidelines, he studies the players. He makes mental notes on how they kick, which ones are lefties, heavy shooters, fast runners, good ball handlers. It's hard to keep track of which boy is which. The only ones he remembers are Albert and Danny and Jeff.
In the summer it had seemed easy. The Formidable Four were going to be the best players Riverside had ever seenâas simple as that. Now, standing on the sidelines, Murphy knows it's not going to be easy at all. The four of them are good, but so are a lot of the other boys.
“Come on, you guys,” he says under his breath. “Good isn't enough. We have to be great.”
It's hard worrying about the three of them as well as himself. But they've all got to make the team; that's all there is to it. They are the Formidable Four. It will be a first. Uncle Rudy will be so proud. Murphy can't even think about one or two of the boys not making the team.
Jeff is playing well. He's steady, and he's dependable; the coach will see that. Like Uncle Rudy says, a defensemen has got to be reliable, and Jeff is showing that's exactly what he is. Danny also looks good. But he's running faster than Albert, and that confuses Murphy.
“Bingo, you're out,” Mr. Paul hollers and then points at Murphy. “You're in.”
Murphy gets into the net just in time to face Albert coming down center field. He's got the ball in control, like it's tied to his foot. It's a beautiful thing to see. When he enters the defensive zone, Jeff challenges him.
Go get him, Jeff.
But no, Jeff backs off.
What's he doing?
From where Murphy is standing, it looks like Jeff just lets Albert go by. Albert heads toward Murphy. He's not running fast, but when Albert meets a goalie, it's scary, even if he's only walking. Murphy takes his position. Albert draws his foot back and then releases a shot.
Murphy braces himself, expecting a hard hit. He's ready for pain. But it's not a shot like Albert usually lets loose. The ball flies straight at Murphy. It's weak and soft, like a shot off Haywire's shoe.
“Nice save, Murphy,” Jeff calls.
“Thanks,” Murphy calls back.
Albert doesn't look at Murphy. He turns and walks toward center field. Murphy kicks the ball over his head and the play continues.
The last play worries Murphyâright from how Albert got past Jeff so easily to how slowly he was running and how little power there was in his shot. It wasn't a bad play, but it wasn't Albert.
Danny and Jeff perform better than ever. There is no doubt from the game today that the coach will notice them. But Albert! The coach will never know how good he is if he keeps playing like this. Murphy can't believe it. He didn't think it would be Albert he'd be worrying about. It doesn't make any sense.
“Good play, good play, Murphy.”
A girl's voice interrupts his thinking.
“What are you doing here?” he says when he sees Molly standing behind the net.
“Watching you and your friends,” she says. “The Formidable Four. I'm cheering you on so you'll all get on the team. You're all good. I hope you get to stay on the field long enough for the coaches to see you make some saves.”
“Yeah,” Murphy says. “Me too.”
“What do you think so far?” she says.
I think you should shut up.
Just then the ball comes out of nowhere, up into the left corner. He leaps, hands out, without thinking. His left side moves as fast as his right side. The tips of his fingers snag the ball, and he yanks it into his belly and falls.
“What a save!” Molly screams.
Coach Kennedy hollers, “Great save!”
Jeff and Danny are jumping like idiots. Albert raises his hand high-five style and turns around toward center field.
“You can't talk to me while I'm playing,” Murphy snaps at Molly.
“Sorry for living,” she snaps back. “You made a great save.”
“Yeah, but it was a fluke,” he says. “I almost missed it.”
The truth is that Murphy has just found out that his left side is as good as his right side as long as he's not thinking about it. And that feels good.
“Okay, I'll just leave then,” Molly says.
“No, just don't talk to me when I'm in goal,” Murphy says. “That's all I'm saying.”
Molly hangs around until the end of the game and then walks back to the school with the boys.
“You guys are totally going to make the team,” she says.
“Who are you?” Albert asks.
“I'm the one who made it possible for you to play today. It was my cell phone that Murphy used to call his mom.”
“And that makes you an expert on who gets on the team?” Albert says.
“You guys are sure edgy. I'm just trying to help.
I want you guys to get on the team,” she says.
“What's it to you?” Danny says, but he's looking at her as if to say,
What's a white girl doing hanging with us?
Molly knows what Danny means, and she's not put off one bit.
“I might be blond,” she says, “but my dad is from the reserve as well. He lived there a long time ago.