Authors: Sylvia Olsen
That evening Mom has the whole story. At least, she has the story that Jeff's mom got from Danny's mom, who spoke to Albert's grandma.
Albert's sickness started back in the spring, just after the Easter Tournament. First he started complaining that his bones hurt. Then, in the summer, he began to feel tired a lot of the time. That's when his attitude went from bad to worse. He wasn't just grumpy sometimes, he was grumpy all the time
Finally, around the first week of school, his mom took him to the doctor. It didn't take them very longâthey did a few blood tests, and now they are sure he has leukemia.
For now Albert has to take a lot of drugs. Then, after a while, he will have to go to Vancouver to a big hospital. No one knows for sure how long he will need to stay or how many times he will need to go there. Albert's family's pretty worried about that part of it. His mom has other kids and a job, which only leaves his grandma to go down to Vancouver to look after him in the hospital.
When Mom's finished describing Albert's condition, Murphy gives him a call.
“Sorry, Murphy,” Albert's mom says. “Albert says he doesn't want to talk to anyone.”
Murphy tries to phone the next day and the next. But it's the same every time: Albert doesn't want to talk. Finally, when he calls, she says, “He's coming, Murphy, just hang on for a minute.” So Murphy waits and waits until the line is disconnected.
Albert doesn't ignore only Murphy. He won't talk to anyone. And to make matters worse, he doesn't come to school all week or show up at the field on the weekend.
“We have to do something about Albert,” Jeff says on Monday morning. “We can't just leave him alone and forget about him.”
Danny says, “He doesn't want to see us. We can't force him. So what are
supposed to do?”
When they get to school, Molly is waiting at the bus stop.
“Where's Albert?” she asks.
“He's sick. Really sick,” Murphy says.
“I don't even want to see him,” Danny says.
“When I phoned him the other night, he was shouting at his mom, âTell Dummy to quit phoning me.'”
Molly says, “Did he really say that?”
“Yeah,” Danny says. “And he's making me mad.
I'm sorry he's sick, but I'm not sticking around so he can call me junk like that.”
“But Danny,” Molly says, pointing her finger, “you have to understand how Albert feels. He's your friend, and he must feel awful.” She sounds like someone's mom.
“Oh, great. He calls
have to understand how
feels,” Danny says. “I don't think that's how a guy's supposed to treat his friend.”
Danny's attitude doesn't seem right to Murphy, but he sort of understands how Danny feels. Just because Albert's sick doesn't mean he can treat Danny badly.
“Anyway, Molly,” Danny carries on. “Albert's all we've been thinking about lately. Is he going to make the team? Oh, poor Albert, he didn't make the team.
Now he's sick, and it's still all about Albert. Is it just me, or is anyone else tired of worrying about Albert?”
“Wow, Danny, that's not very nice,” Murphy says. “I'm not tired of worrying about Albert. I'm just glad it's not me who's sick.”
“Yeah, well, you're not sick, and neither am I. So why can't we just forget about all this?” Danny says. “We made the team. He didn't. Now he's wrecking it for us. It's not fair.”
“Am I hearing you right, Danny?” Molly gasps. “Is that what you really think?”
“Duh,” Danny says. “I just said it, didn't I? What do you think? That I'm lying to you?”
Danny runs ahead toward the school, leaving Murphy, Molly and Jeff walking together silently to the front door.
At lunch when the boys walk up the hill to the field for soccer practice, they have their heads down. No one says a word.
Nothing has worked out the way it was planned. First Albert doesn't make the team. Now he's sick, and it doesn't help that Danny has such a bad attitude. The first two games were okay, but nothing like Murphy had expected. Playing for the Riverside Strikers isn't any fun at all. It's the end of the Formidable Four. Everything is a disaster.
“Hey, guys, tonight's a big game,” Molly says when she catches up to them. “They say the Tempo Lake Tigers are going to be our biggest threat this year. They have a whole lot of returning players.”
“They won't even come close,” Jeff says.
“Oh yeah?” Danny says. “They probably think we're a bunch of losers. Riverside sucks.”
Murphy tries to think of something to say, but what's the point? When Danny gets this way, there's not much anyone can do about it. But Danny's wrong. Riverside doesn't suck. They've won both their games so far. The first game was a slaughterâ 11â0 for Riverside. It was as if the other team didn't even show up. Even Jeff got a goal. The second game was tough, but it ended with Riverside up 2â1 with a great goal from Leroy.
Danny's shoulders slump as he walks onto the field.
“I don't even know why I bother playing on the team,” Danny mumbles as he walks away. “Without Albert, we're going nowhere.”
Molly stands silently beside Murphy for a few moments.
“We have to do something, Murphy,” she finally says. “We can't just let everything fall apart. This is your dream.”
my dream,” Murphy says, trying to remember how excited he used to be when he thought about being on the Riverside Strikers. That's when he thought that if he could make the team, then everything else in the world would be perfect. Now he isn't even excited or proud. The truth is, even though Murphy is on the team, he has never felt as unhappy as he does today.
“No, no, no, Murphy,” Molly says, standing with her hands on her hips. Murphy is amazed at how much she reminds him of his mom. “Playing for the Riverside Strikers IS your dream. And it's Danny's dream and Jeff's dream too. We gotta do something.”
“What can we do?” Murphy asks. “We can't make Albert better. We can't get the Formidable Four back together. We can't change Danny's attitude. Once he gets like that, he stays like that.”
Molly raises the palms of her hands to the sides of her head. “You make me crazy,” she says. “Just go and play. I'll think of something.”
After practice, Danny and Jeff run ahead. Molly and Murphy take their time walking down the hill.
“The all-schools intramural tournament is coming up in a few weeks, isn't it?” Molly says.
“Yeah, I think so,” he says. “In a month or something like that.”
“It's going to be held at Riverside this year, right?
Teams are going to come from all over the place.”
Murphy doesn't respond.
“It would be a good time to have a fundraiser.”
“A fundraiser for what?”
“Think about it. Albert must be scared. First he can't play soccer like he used to, and then he doesn't make it on the team. Then he finds out he's sick, and now he has to go to Vancouver to have treatmentâ and his family can't afford to make the trip over and over again. And they don't even know how long he'll have to be there. Wouldn't you be scared?
“Yeah. No kidding. I heard his grandma's going to stay with him.”
“Maybe, but it is going to cost a lot of money just to get his mom and the kids to travel back and forth.”
“There's nothing we can do about that.”
“Come on, Murphy. We can't change the fact that Albert's sick. And we can't get him back on the team, at least not right away. But we can do something to help him feel better and maybe not so scared.”
“I can't think of anything.”
“You're as bad as Danny.”
“Don't say that.”
“Okay, but think of it this way. The whole thing sucks, but there is something we can do. We can't make it go away, but we can make it better.”
Murphy curls his shoulders up to his ears. Molly is so optimistic. Maybe she's got a point, but right now he doesn't think there's much a couple of kids can do to improve the situation.
“First of all we need to get excited about the team.
You guys should be happy. Right?” Molly pokes Murphy in the shoulder. “Right? Come on, Murphy, agree with me. You know I'm right.”
“Okay, okay, you're right,” he protests. “We have to get excited about the team.”
“Then we have to get some money together so that Albert's family can afford to get back and forth to Vancouver and have a good Christmas.” She stops and waits for Murphy to respond.
“Okay, okay, you're right again. We have to raise some money.”
“Then we have to encourage Albert so that he becomes the best cancer patient in the whole world.
People get better from leukemia, you know. But Dad says people heal better when they are happy. And from the sounds of it, Albert is not very happy right now.”
The bell rings before Murphy has time to say anything else, but he knows Molly's right. It seems like Albert has given up, and that's not going to help anything.
Maybe I've given up too, he thinks. Maybe Molly's right: everything doesn't have to be completely hopeless.
In fact, once Murphy starts thinking about Molly's plans, he starts feeling better.
After school the boys are at the field when Molly arrives.
“Come on, you guys,” she says when she gets close to where they are standing. “Play like you're playing for Albert. Get 'er done.”
The words sound funny coming from Molly. Jeff throws her a sideways look, and Danny scowls.
Murphy puts his hand on Danny's shoulder and says without very much enthusiasm, “Yeah, guys, let's go and get 'er done.”
Danny pushes Murphy's hand away and heads onto the field.
“We're the Riverside Strikers,” Jeff says, trying to sound excited. “Let's get out there and play like a team.”
“Way to go,” Molly says. “You're not the Formidable Four. You're the starting lineup for the Strikers.”
She's right, Murphy thinks. We're not the Formidable Four anymore. We're the Riverside Strikers. We're part of the team. And that's a good thing.
He looks at the boys on his team one by one. Up until then, he hadn't really thought much about any of them other than how they kicked or ran or passed the ball.
“Way to go, Danny!” Murphy shouts when Danny takes a great shot and almost scores.
“Good goal, Reza!”
“You show 'em, Walker!”
When Murphy cheers for the other boys, he feels good. He's not one of the Formidable Four. He is a Riverside Striker. They are a team.
It's an easy game for him. Jeff and the other Striker defenders play so well, there aren't many serious Tempo shots on goal. Murphy only makes a few great saves and a couple of blocks, and he gets a shutout.
The Strikers take down the Tempo Lake Tigers handily, 3â0.
“You guys are great. You guys are great,” Molly cheers when the game is over. “The Riverside Strikers sure showed those guys who's the best. Good team, good team, good team.”
She jumps up and down and throws a high five at Murphy and Jeff, but Danny turns to go before she can congratulate him.
“Hold on, Danny, I need a word with you,” Coach Kennedy calls to him as he walks away. “Wait a minute,” he says as an afterthought, “I'd like to talk to Jeff and Murphy as well. Can you fellows hold on a minute?”
The other players head toward the school, leaving the three boys and Molly behind with Coach Kennedy. He tosses each one of them a few balls and water bottles that have been left on the field.
“How's it going with you boys?” he asks.
“Not bad,” Jeff says.
“How do you like playing for the Strikers?”
“Good,” Jeff says. He nods his head. “Yeah, it's good.”
“I'm surprised that you boys aren't more enthusiastic. I had heard good things about the effort you put in this summer for the team. I heard we were going to get some mighty excited players from the tribal school.”
“So what are you saying?” Danny snaps. “That we're not playing good enough for you?”
“Hey, buddy, not so fast,” Coach Kennedy says. “I'm the coach, and my job is to take care of my players. I'm just wondering if you're making the transition to Riverside okay. I know it can be hard for some kids. You guys look a little down, that's all.”
“Nothing wrong,” Danny mumbles with his head down.
“We're fine,” Jeff says. “We're all good.”
Molly, who has been standing off to the side, joins the boys.
“That's good,” Coach Kennedy says. “Because if you have any concerns, you can come and talk to me anytime.”
“They have a concern,” Molly pipes in.
Danny straightens up and says, “Who are you to be talking for me?”
“I'm your friend,” she says. “And I'm Albert's friend too.”
“Albert?” Coach Kennedy frowns.
“He's the guy that didn't make the team,” Danny snarls. “The guy you overlooked. The guy who wasn't good enough for you.”
Coach Kennedy looks confused.
“Danny,” Jeff says, trying to calm him down. “Lay off, bro.”
“Albert? You wanna know about Albert? He's the best player of us all.” Danny glares at the coach. “He's just a guy from the reserve who happens to be better than any other player on this dumb team.” Danny squints to hold back his tears. “He's the reason I play soccer. He's the one who showed me all my moves, ever since I was a little kid. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be on this team.”
“I know who you are talking about,” Coach Kennedy says. “Butâ¦”
“Oh, now you remember him.” Danny's almost shouting by now. “Maybe if you didn't keep him off the team, maybe he wouldn't have quit school and maybe he wouldn't be sick right now.”