Read A Different Game Online

Authors: Sylvia Olsen

Tags: #JUV000000

A Different Game (6 page)

He checks the list again. It is just as Molly said: Jeffrey Sam and Daniel Waters and Murphy James are the only three names Murphy recognizes. He looks at the top of the list. Albert Adams? His name should be at the top. But Albert Adams is not on the list.

He didn't make the team.

Jeff made the team. Danny made the team. Murphy made the team. Albert did not make the team.
Three-quarters
, Murphy thinks.
Only three-quarters of us made it.

It takes a little while for the fact to sink into Murphy's head.

Ever since the boys started practicing in the summer and planning to make it onto the Riverside Strikers, only one guy was a shoo-in: Albert. Everyone
knew
he would make the team. Danny, Jeff and Murphy were hopefuls. They had a good chance, but not like Albert. There isn't a grade-seven player in the entire region who is better than him. Murphy checks the list again.

By now Danny and Jeff have made it to the front of the crowd. Both boys check for their names. Then their eyes flick up to the top of the list. Bobby Bristol is the first name. There are no names starting with
A
. No Albert. No Adams.

“Wow,” Jeff says as he walks away from the bulletin board. “That's hard to believe.”

“It sure is,” Danny says. “I thought I would be the one who didn't make it. Not Albert.”

“Or me,” Murphy says. “No wonder the big keeper is stomping around. I can't really believe I made it and he didn't.”

“Albert didn't make the team,” Jeff says, his jaw slack.

“There goes the Formidable Four. We can't be the Formidable Three,” Murphy says. “It doesn't sound any good. It's just not right.”

“Come on, you guys,” Molly says. “You did awesome.”

“Who's going to phone and tell him?” Jeff asks, ignoring her. “I sure don't want to be the one.”

“Me neither,” Murphy says. “But somebody has to.”

On the way home, Murphy is excited and surprised at the same time. He's on the team. It's not that he thought he
couldn't
make it. But deep down inside, he hadn't been sure. With Bingo being so big and Ahmed being so confident, Murphy had thought his chances weren't that good. But numbers aside, he hadn't imagined what it would feel like to actually read his name on the list—
Murphy James, Starting Keeper
.

Chapter Nine

When Mom gets home, she opens the door and says, “Okay, son, tell me how you did. Was Murphy James's name on the list?”

“Sure was,” Murphy says. “MT,” he says to his cat when it walks in behind Mom, “you're looking at the starting keeper for the Riverside Strikers. Yes, that's right, my little puddy cat, you are looking at the grade-seven player who beat out two grade-eight players in the lineup. Big Bingo is playing fill-in for Murphy James. He's pretty mad.”

Mousetrap curls his body around Murphy's legs and lies down on his feet.

“Congratulations, son,” Mom says. “I knew you'd do it.”

She gives Murphy a big hug and then flops on the sofa. “Now tell me more. What about the other guys? How did they do?”

“Danny and Jeff made the team,” Murphy says. Then, and he's not sure why, he has trouble telling Mom about Albert. He stops talking. He doesn't want to say the words.

“And…,” she says, obviously expecting him to continue, “what about Albert?”

“He didn't make the team, Mom,” Murphy says. His eyes start to burn. He turns away from her and picks up Mousetrap. “Albert didn't get on the starting lineup, MT. Can you believe it?”

“Well, that's ridiculous,” Mom says, throwing her hands up in the air. “Who were the people choosing the team? What do they have against Albert?”

“It's not like that, Mom,” Murphy says. “Remember what I said about the way he was playing? I've been worried all week. Well…I've been worried for longer than that. He just hasn't been playing like Albert.”

Mom calms down a little. “But Albert is better than most boys, even when he's playing at half speed,” she says. “Heck, he's better with one hand tied behind his back. He's the best player since Uncle Rudy.”

“That's kind of how he was playing—with one hand tied behind his back and at half speed,” Murphy says. He decides not to tell Mom about the fight Albert almost got into or the swearing or the bad attitude he's been tossing around the field.

Murphy tries hard to hold back his tears.

“I don't understand,” Mom says. “But I remember now. I didn't like the way it sounded when you said his shots were weak and he wasn't running as fast as he used to.”

She gets up to start cooking supper.

“What did he say when he didn't make the team?” she asks.

“He wasn't at school today,” Murphy says.

“Well, that doesn't make sense either,” she says. “He was looking forward to this as much as the rest of you boys.”

“We were going to be the Formidable Four. The first time ever that four players from the tribal school had a chance at making the starting lineup for the Riverside Strikers.”

“There's something wrong,” Mom says.

“Danny says Albert hates middle school and wishes he was still in the tribal school.”

“Do you think that's it?”

“I don't know. I guess. He sure sounds like he hates the school.”

“But everyone is worried about moving to a bigger school where there are older kids. He didn't have to destroy his dreams. He wouldn't have played badly because of that.” She hesitates. “Or would he?”

She scrunches up her nose like she does when she can't figure something out. She opens the fridge door and pulls out the milk and cheese.

“What is going on with that boy?” she says over her shoulder. “Albert shouldn't be that worried about the bigger school. He's big enough to be in grade eight.”

Mom's right, Murphy thinks. Albert's bigger than Jeff or Danny, and he's a whole lot bigger than Murphy. But lately Albert looks smaller—like he's been losing weight.

In bed that night, Murphy hears Mom on the phone.

She's talking quietly, so he has to listen closely to understand what she's saying.

“Kelsey, have you talked to Carmel lately?”

There is a long pause. Jeff's mom must have a lot to say.

“Really? Who said that?…Oh no…When will they find out for sure?…That's really too bad. I wondered what was going on with Albert…Yeah. Murphy was saying the same thing…They must be really worried about him…No kidding…Let me know when you find out anything…Yeah, I agree. I don't think I'll tell Murphy either. Maybe we should wait until we know something definite before we say anything to the boys…Jeff sounds like Murphy. Happy about making the team, but really disappointed for Albert.”

As soon as Mom disconnects from Jeff's mom, she dials again. Something's desperately wrong, and Murphy can count on Mom to find out what it is.

“Tsina? Yeah, did you hear about Albert?”

Mom takes the phone outside the back door. She shuts it behind her so Murphy can't hear what she says.

What about Albert?

Why doesn't Mom want me to listen?

Why won't she come and tell me? Albert's my friend, not hers.

Murphy's brain won't stop thinking, and none of his thoughts make him feel good. He has too many questions that he can't answer.

By the time Mom comes back into the house, Murphy is sleepy. He decides to wait until the morning to find out what's going on.

Chapter Ten

“Mom.” Murphy taps Mom on the shoulder. It's only 5:30 am, but he can't sleep. “What's wrong with Albert?”

She turns over lazily and says, “What time is it?”

“It's five thirty,” he says. “I've been awake since four. I need to know what's wrong with Albert.”

“What do you mean, what's wrong with him?” she says, as if she doesn't know anything.

“I heard you last night on the phone. And anyway, it's obvious. Something is wrong.”

She slides over and makes room for Murphy to sit beside her on the bed.

“I don't know exactly,” she says.

“But you know
something
. You know more than I do.”

“I'd rather wait to talk about it—until we hear more. I don't know enough, Murph. It will just worry you.”

“Mom, I'm worried already. What do you think I am? A little kid that can't figure anything out?”

“It's just that…”

“Albert's my friend, Mom. I want to know.”

“No one knows for sure yet. He has been having tests.”

“Tests for what?”

“They think he has leukemia. They'll get the final test back today. Then we'll know for sure.”

“What's leukemia?” Murphy asks. He's never heard the word before, and it sounds pretty scary.

“It's a blood condition,” she says.

“What kind of blood condition?”

“Not a good one. But it can be cured. That's really all I know, honey. I'll phone around and see if I can find out more about it.”

Murphy gets off Mom's bed. He needs to know more. He can't wait until later. He's got too many questions, and they are burning a hole in his head.

He hates waiting—the longer he has to wait, the bigger the hole will get.

He heads back behind the blanket that makes up the wall of his bedroom. He turns on his computer and types the word
Lukemia
into Google.
Do you mean: Leukemia?
it asks him.

He clicks the Wikipedia entry.

Leukemia or leukaemia (Greek leukos, “white”;
aima, “blood”) is a cancer of the blood or bone
marrow and is characterized by an abnormal
proliferation (multiplication) of blood cells,
usually white blood cells (leukocytes).

The word
cancer
makes Murphy's stomach tighten and the saliva in his mouth dry up. That's the same thing Grandpa had. Cancer
.
At least that's what Mom says about her father. He died before Murphy was born. Leukemia is a scary word, but it's not as bad as cancer. Murphy's eyes scan the page as he scrolls farther down.

Symptoms: fever, chills, weakness, fatigue,
bone pain, joint pain, weight loss…

None of it sounds any good. But Albert's only twelve years old. Why would he get cancer? Murphy scrolls up and down until he finds the causes:

1. Natural or artificial ionizing radiation

2. Certain kinds of chemicals

3. Some viruses

4. Genetic predispositions

Only the part about chemicals makes sense.

Murphy's seen programs on tv about pollution, and he knows it has something to do with chemicals, and somehow it's all got something to do with cancer.

He googles
radiation
.

Radiation: as in physics, is energy in the form of waves or moving subatomic particles

Murphy doesn't have a clue what subatomic particles are, never mind how they could give Albert cancer.

He googles
genetic predispositions
.

A genetic predisposition is a genetic effect that
influences the phenotype of an organism

Murphy doesn't understand most of the words, but he's heard of genetics. Mom told him about it. It's the thing that makes you a certain way because your mom or dad are that way. Like Mom said: She's short. Dad's short. So Murphy's going to be short.

“Don't bother dreaming about being tall,” she told him. “It's genetics. You're going to be short.”

Maybe someone in Albert's family had leukemia, and that means Albert's going to have it, which is a totally bad deal for Albert, if that's what runs in his family.

By the time Mom gets up, Murphy knows a lot more about leukemia than he did before, but he still has a lot of questions.

The biggest question of all is: how will Albert get rid of it? Murphy couldn't understand a word in the
Treatment
section of the Wikipedia entry. There were drugs with names so long that Murphy couldn't even begin to pronounce them.

“How long will it take for Albert to get rid of the leukemia?” Murphy asks as soon as Mom gets out of the bathroom.

“I don't know, Murphy,” she says. She looks like she hasn't slept very well. “Like I said, I'll look into it today.”

“It sounds like there's lots of drugs to take. And that it takes a long time. And that…” Murphy doesn't want to say any more. Nothing he read sounded any good—even the stuff he could understand didn't make him feel very optimistic about Albert.

“Where'd you get your information?” she asks.

“The Internet,” he says.

“You can't always depend on the information you get on the Internet, Murph,” she says. “You know that.”

Murphy has one more question—the biggest one of all. It's a question he doesn't want to ask. It's a question he doesn't even want to think about. He sits at the table and pours milk on his cereal. He has to ask. Even if the answer is yes.

“Mom.”

“Yeah, Murph.”

“It says leukemia might be caused by a virus.”

“Yeah?”

“Does that mean I can catch it from Albert?”

“Oh, honey.” Mom grabs Murphy's shoulders with both hands. “No, no, no. You can't catch it. Is that what you think?”

“No,” he says. “It's just that…”

He's quiet for a few moments.

“Do I have to go to school today, Mom?” Murphy asks. “I'd rather go and see Albert.”

“Albert will be busy today. From what Tsina said, he's going to the doctor today to get the final test results and talk about treatment.”

“Shouldn't he have a friend with him?”

“We'll see later this afternoon. Maybe you can call him then.”

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