Authors: Sylvia Olsen
We live in town now. I think I'm related to Albert.
I don't know for sure.”
“You aren't related to me.” Albert sounds annoyed.
But it's not Molly he should be worried about, it's his playing.
“How do you know?” she says. “I'm going to ask my dad. Albert Adams, right?”
“Whatever,” Albert says. He walks ahead without looking back.
“What's with him?” Jeff asks. “He's usually a grump, but not that bad.”
“Yeahâ¦,” Murphy starts and then stops. He's just about to say that he doesn't think Albert played up to his ability during practice, but he decides against it. He remembers what Uncle Rudy said about the power of positive thinking. If the Formidable Four are going to make the team, they have to support each otherâno negative talk.
The next couple of tryouts are pretty much the same as the first. Murphy makes a few more outstanding saves that get everyone on the sidelines shouting and hollering. And not just Molly, who doesn't miss a practice. She learned fast not to interrupt Murphy when he's playing soccer, orâjust as importantlyâwhen he's on the sidelines studying the players. Molly talks a lot, but she knows when to be quiet too.
After the last practice of the first week, the four boys and Molly walk back to the school together.
“Are you feeling okay, Albert?” Molly asks.
“Yeah,” he snaps. “Why'd you ask that?”
“I'm just worried about you,” she says. “That's all.”
“And who are you to be worried about me?” he says, walking ahead. “That's just what I need. Some little freak girl worrying about me.”
“I'm just concerned,” she says. “And I'm not just some freak girl. We're related. Dad says. Not close, but from way back our familiesâ”
Albert interrupts. “Concerned, concerned. The girl is concerned,” he says, mocking Molly. Then he throws her an angry look. “Concerned about what? Are you concerned that I'm not eating enough for breakfast?”
“Why are you so mad at me?”
It's hard to say whether Molly is going to cry or whether she is getting angry. Murphy doesn't know her well enough to judge, but he doesn't want to see either.
“Yeah, well, I'm not into hearing stupid remarks about how I'm playing soccer.
Are you feeling okay?
You think I don't get what you're saying? You're just a stupid girl. Why don't you leave us alone?” Albert's voice is loud. “Why don't you all just leave me alone?” he shouts over his shoulder. He turns and runs to the school ahead of the rest of them.
What really bothers Murphy is that Albert doesn't run like he usually does. He runs slowly, kind of dragging his feet. Murphy has never seen him run like that before. They all watch him, and no one says a word.
Molly finally breaks the silence.
“He looks like he's not feeling very well, that's all,” she says. “I wasn't trying to insult him.”
Danny says, “Can't a guy have a bad day and not have to explain himself? I mean, who are you to criticize him?”
“I wasn't criticizing him,” Molly argues.
Jeff and Murphy look at each other. Murphy waits, because it looks like Jeff is going to say something.
Better him than me
I don't want to say anything about Albert.
“She's not criticizing him, Danny. You know that.
She's worried. And I have to say, I'm worried,” Jeff says.
“What are you worried about?” Danny voice rises as he glares at Jeff. “Has Molly got you on Albert's back too?”
“That's not it,” Jeff says, “and you know it.”
“I know what?”
“You know Albert's not playing the way he usually does.”
Although Murphy feels sort of glad that Jeff has finally said what Murphy has been thinking, the words themselves make him feel badâreally bad. Murphy had thought there was something different about the way Albert was playing ever since the game in the summer when he let off a weak shot right at Murphy. But when Jeff says the words, Murphy really starts to worry that what he has been seeing in Albert lately is real. Up until now, he has hoped that it is just a figment of his imagination.
“He's just not used to playing with these freaks up here at Riverside. I'm like that too,” Danny says.
“No, you're not, Danny,” Molly pipes up. “You are playing awesome. You're going to be on the team for sure.”
Even though Molly compliments him, Danny's now as mad at her as Albert is.
“We're all going to be on the team,” he barks. He waits for a moment and then says, “Why don't you all just shut up? There's nothing wrong with the way Albert's playing, okay? He's better than all these stupid kids.”
Murphy knows he should say something. It isn't Molly's fault that Danny's mad. And he agrees completely with what Jeff said. But he can't figure it out. It doesn't look like Albert is trying. He's sloppy and slow. He's not being accurate. There is no power in his shots. Once in a while he looks great, but most of the time he hardly even looks average. It just isn't like Albert. And now he's mad. He not excited about the team. What has happened to the dreams of the Formidable Four?
During the afternoon, Murphy thinks about the soccer team. He thinks about Albert and the plans the boys had made. There is one rule:
Give 'er all you've got
. Now he wonders what will happen if one of the boys decides not to give 'er all he's got. What if one of them really doesn't want to make the team? What if it's Albert who gives up on their dream?
After school, Albert gets on the bus after the other boys. There's an empty seat next to Danny, but Albert sits up at the front by himself.
“What's wrong with him?” Jeff asks.
Murphy says, “I don't know. He's acting totally weird.”
“He just hates this school,” Danny says. “He told me that the other day. He says he wishes he was still at the tribal school.”
“Yeah, well, that's no reason to wreck all the plans. We're the Formidable Four. We gotta make the team. All of us together. It's not fun anymore. I'm so worried about Albert that I can't even play a good game,” Jeff says.
“Same with me,” Murphy says. “I want to let his shots in just so he can get a goal.”
“So what are we going to do?” Danny says. He keeps his voice low to make sure Albert doesn't hear what they are talking about.
Jeff shrugs his shoulders. “I want to kick his butt,” he says.
“That's not going to work,” Danny replies. “He's already mad at us. He'll just get worse.”
“I know what we should do,” Murphy says. “Let's get Uncle Rudy to come to tryouts on Friday. He knows how to encourage and kick butt at the same time.”
The other boys agree. Of course, Uncle Rudy's what Albert needs. And it's not just Albert who's having trouble adjusting to Riverside. Danny and Jeff and Murphy agree: they are all feeling a little stressed. Getting on the team isn't as much fun as they thought it would be. Some of the other boys are goodâ really good.
Mom's reading a book when Murphy arrives home. Mousetrap is curled up on Mom's lap, purring. His thick white coat looks a little grubbier than it used to when they lived in town, but the sight of the two of them makes Murphy feel good. Their place is comfortableâ a real Mom, Murphy and Mousetrap kind of place. It's just a basement suite, no doubt about that. It's got some issues. Blankets divide the rooms instead of doors. It doesn't have a lot of windows. But Mom has a way of making a space into a home. The place is full of blankets and pillows and carpets, and when the boys come over, they say it's their favorite house on the whole reserve, even though it started out as an empty basement.
“There's something wrong with Albert,” Murphy blurts out as soon as he opens the door.
“Wow, son,” Mom says. “Hello to you too.”
“Sorry,” he says. “Hello, Mom. I'm worried about Albert.”
Mom listens as Murphy tells her about the game in the summerâthe first time Murphy realized that Albert wasn't playing the way he used to. He explains how Albert's game got worse at the end of the summer and now it has become really obvious at tryouts that something is wrong.
“At first I thought that it was just because we were with other playersâones we'd never played with before,” he explains. “I thought maybe Albert was scared and couldn't show his stuff against boys he didn't know. I figured he'd loosen up after a game or two.”
Murphy gets himself a plate of crackers and cheese, a glass of milk and an apple, and settles into his favorite chair.
“But he didn't. Then I got worried that maybe he wasn't as good as I thought he was. I got thinking that maybe all of us were just kidding ourselves.
Maybe we're all just bad players. But Jeff and Danny are playing excellent. And every game, I get lots of cheers. I know Coach Kennedy likes me.”
“So what's wrong with the way Albert plays?” Mom asks. “I mean, exactly what does he look like?”
Murphy describes how slowly Albert runs and how sloppy his shots have become.
“It's not like him, Mom,” he says. “He acting like he doesn't even care. Like he's doing it deliberately. Like he doesn't even want to be on the team. Like he could care less about the Formidable Four.”
“That can't be it. But I did hear from his mom that he doesn't like the school,” Mom says. “It's all Carmel can do to get him on the bus in the morning. He says he wants to quit and do his schoolwork at home. So maybe that's it.”
“It's not that bad up there,” Murphy says. “There's a million kids compared to the tribal school. And he's not the biggest guy anymore. You should see Bingo. He's the other keeper that's trying out for the team. He's almost as big as Coach Kennedy.”
“Albert probably feels out of place,” Mom says. “Give him some time. He'll figure it out.”
“He doesn't have any time. There are only two more tryouts, and if he doesn't play hard, he won't be picked for the team. Then what will happen to the Formidable Four?”
“Has he played
“I don't know if he's played
bad. But he sure hasn't played that
“Maybe you other boys should head up to the field and have a short game before supper. Give him a boost.”
“I think we should get Uncle Rudy to come to practice on Friday. He'll kick Albert's butt and give him a boost. What do you think?
“Good idea. He works in town. He might be able to get to your game at lunch.”
Murphy phones Jeff and then Danny. They decide that Murphy should be the one to phone Uncle Rudy and tell him about Albert. They have no doubt that with him at practice, they'll all do better.
Uncle Rudy agrees.
“Twelve fifteen, Friday. Riverside Middle School.
The upper field. I'll be there, Nephew,” he says. “And don't worry about a thing. I remember being totally freaked out about the big school. It affects some kids that way, Murphy. It'll take Albert some time.”
“But, Uncleâ¦,” Murphy starts.
“I hear you. I hear you,” Uncle Rudy butts in. “He doesn't have any time. Friday's the day. I'll be there.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much, Uncle.”
Murphy is relieved. It seems like his plan is the answer. There is no way that Albert will slack off when Uncle Rudy's around. Not a chance.
“No problem. The Formidable Four will make the team. That's the plan. All four of you will
give 'er all you've got
. That's the rule.”
“Say hi to your mom for me. Later.”
Murphy phones Danny and then Jeff. “He's going to be there,” he says.
“Awesome,” Jeff says. “I sort of know how Albert feels. It's kind of scary having all that competition.”
“I do too,” Murphy says. “We'll all do better with Uncle on the sidelines.”
Murphy is sure of it. It will be like old times. The four of themâshowing up all the other boys on the field. Coach Kennedy won't be able to turn them down.
“Did you say that Albert looks tired all the time?”
Mom asks when he gets off the phone.
“Sometimes, I guess. He's not running as fast as he used to.”
“And his shots? Did you say they were weak?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“Nothing. I was just wondering.”
“Nothing. I'm sure he'll play really well for Rudy.”
“Where's Albert?” Danny asks at the bus stop Friday morning.
“He's coming,” Jeff says. “I talked to him last night.”
“Then how come he's not here? The bus is on Beach Road already. I saw it turning the corner a few minutes ago,” Murphy says.
When the bus pulls up to the stop, Albert is nowhere to be seen. The boys get on along with half a dozen other Riverside students.
“Morning, boys,” Uncle Spencer, the bus driver, says. “It's your big day today, I hear. The last day you get to impress the coach. You boys are going to make us proud.”
“Yeah, Uncle,” Jeff says. “But Albert's not here.”
“Anyone seen him?” Danny says loudly when he gets onto the bus. “Anyone seen Albert this morning?”
The other kids all shake their heads.
“We passed his house, and I didn't see his mom's car in the driveway. Must mean she's already gone somewhere,” Shawntay says. She lives a few houses away from Albert.
Uncle Spencer waits for a while, hoping to see Albert run around the corner and hop onto the bus.
“I can't go looking for him now,” Uncle Spencer says. “The rest of you will be late for school. But I'll check it out when I get back home after I drop you off.