Authors: Sylvia Olsen
Danny chucks the soccer ball he is holding at Coach Kennedy, catching him off guard and hitting him on his shoulder. He turns and races toward the school.
Molly kicks the ball to Jeff.
“Coach,” she says. “I'm so sorry. He didn't mean to do it. Really, he didn't.”
Coach Kennedy stumbles a bit and then sits down on the bag of balls. He motions with his hands for the boys to sit beside him.
“You too,” he says to Molly. He tosses her a ball to sit on.
“I think I'm missing something here,” he says.
“Please, someone tell me what is going on.”
If Murphy thought things couldn't get any worse, he just found out he was mistaken. He can't believe his eyes. His best friend shouted at the coach and hit him with a ball. Jeff's mouth hangs open, and Murphy's knees are shaking.
“You see, Coach Kennedyâ¦,” Molly begins before either boy speaks. She tells him how hard the boys practiced all summer, how they called themselves the Formidable Four and how Albert was the head of the gang, the best player, the inspiration, the soccer hero for all the younger boys at the tribal school.
She tells him that his playing got worse and worse until he didn't make the team. She tells him that Danny got mad, Murphy got worried and Jeff got scared. No one knew what to do. She says it wasn't until a few weeks ago that they found out that Albert has leukemia, and most of the teachers don't even know yet. Now, for some reason, Danny blames the coach. Finally Molly stops talking and takes a big breath.
“Nothing has gone right, Coach Kennedy. It was so good at the start, and then things started to go wrong. Now it's just one big disaster,” Murphy says.
“I hear you,” he says. “I wish someone had told me earlier. I would have brought Albert onside and used him on the sidelines even if he couldn't play.”
“Well, we only just found out that he's sick,” Jeff says. “And no one really likes to talk about it.”
They all stand up and start walking back to the school.
“I'll talk to Danny,” Coach says. “But you kids are going to have to help me. It looks like he thinks I'm the bad guy.”
“And maybe you could help us,” Molly says. “In a few weeks, Albert has to start going to Vancouver for treatment. His mom can't go with him all the time.
She has to work, and she has two other little kids.
We need to raise money to help her travel to be with him and so his grandma can stay with him and to help them out with Christmas. We need to show him that we care about him. We need to get him back to school.
There are SO many things we need to do. We have to get started.”
“I'll do whatever I can,” Coach says.
Murphy feels better when he thinks about Molly's plan. He figures she's probably right when she says they won't be able to fix some of the major problems, but they can make a difference with other stuff.
Murphy thinks that Molly is one of the most unusual friends he has ever had. It's not because she's a girl. It's because she doesn't ever quit. Nothing stops her. At first that part of Molly was a little hard to take. Jeff and Danny aren't used to her yet. They think she's weird. And Albert doesn't have a clue what to think of her. But now that Murphy's gotten to know her, he likes it that she never gives up. He likes it when she talks. Most of the time, she talks about interesting things. And he likes it that she is so positiveâespecially right now, because positive is the last thing Murphy has been feeling lately.
In fact, Murphy comes to the conclusion that Molly really is a lot like his momâshe's always coming up with stuff. If there's a problem, Molly has a solution, just like Mom. She's got a positive way of looking at things. She doesn't let trouble get her downânot completely down. That's another thing Murphy likes about her. Maybe it
because Molly and Mom are both girls. Murphy thinks for a few seconds that he likes that about Molly too.
“Hey there, MT,” Murphy says when he gets home from school. “We won the game. The Riverside Strikers are awesomeâthe best team in the leagueâ soon to be the best team on the Island.”
Mousetrap fluffs up his tail and rubs against Murphy's leg while Murphy pours himself a glass of milk and makes a cheese sandwich.
“Remember when I told you how excited I was about the team?” Murphy drops his cat a piece of bread. “Well, today is the first day that I realized I'm really on the team. I'm not one of the Formidable Four anymore, MT. I'm a Riverside Striker. I'm the keeper of the Riverside Strikers.”
Mousetrap always seems to appreciate Murphy's stories. He curls up on his lap and purrs. He keeps one eye open, and that way Murphy knows he's still listening.
Murphy describes the game play by play. By the time he gets to the part where he gets a shutout, Murphy starts to feel the same old excitement coming backâ just like he felt in the summer when the Formidable Four were dreaming about being on the team.
“Bobby plays center. He's good, but not as good as Albert. Walker plays defense with Jeff and Taylor in center backâ¦”
“You talking to your cat again, Murphy?” Mom says when she comes in from work.
“Yep,” Murphy says. “And he agrees with me. MT says I'm completely right.”
“That Mousetrap is a smart cat.” Mom throws her jacket and purse on the sofa.
“He's as smart as me,” Murphy says. “But he doesn't come up with so many good ideas.”
“What good idea did you come up with today?” Mom asks.
“It wasn't exactly me who came up with the ideas,” he says. “But I was the first one to agree with them.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, there's this girl at school,” Murphy says.
“Have I told you about her?”
“How would I know?” Mom says, laughing. “You haven't told me what girl you are talking about.”
“No, you haven't told me about Molly.”
Murphy wonders for a second or two why he hasn't told Mom about Molly before. And then for another second, he wishes he hadn't mentioned her, but now he doesn't have any choice. He needs to tell Mom about the plans. And anyway, it's not like Molly is a secretâshe's his friend.
“Well, Molly's a girl in my math class.”
“And Molly says you and her dad were an item when you were in high school,” Murphy says. He wishes right away that he had left out the part about Molly's dad.
“An item?” Mom laughs again.
“Yeah, you know, like going out.”
“Oh, I see. An item means we were going out.
Well, that narrows it down to about three guys. So what is Molly's last name?”
“Ooohhh. Yes. I do remember her dad. You could say we were an item. Or you could say he was my first love.”
“Let's not talk about your first love, okay?” Jeez, Murphy thinks to himself, the last thing I want to be talking to Mom about is love. “I'm just trying to tell you about Molly.”
“I heard that Richard lives in town, but I haven't seen him since we got back.”
“Mom, I said I was talking about Molly.”
“Right. Sorry, Murph. What about Molly?”
“Do you even remember what we were talking about?”
“Sure, we were talking about Molly.”
“No, we were talking about Molly's good idea.”
“Right. Now tell me about the good idea.”
Murphy fills Mom in about everything, and once they stop talking about love and Molly's dad, it feels good. He hasn't really talked to her for days. He tells her that Albert hasn't been to school and all the boys have been feeling miserable. He tells her that Danny's been downright angry and blames Coach Kennedy for everything, and that up until this afternoon no one cared one bit about the team. He tells her that the whole soccer thing and school thing were turning out badâreally bad.
“That's where Molly comes in,” Murphy says, and then he describes how Molly became his friend, how she talked to Coach Kennedy and how she came up with a plan.
“Wow,” Mom says. “I like Molly already. You let me know what kind of help I can be. I'll do whatever I can.”
“I was talking to my dad last night,” Molly says the next morning. “He helped me put together a plan. You guys tell me if you think it will work.”
“A plan for what?” Danny says. “A plan to mess things up worse than they already are?”
“Danny,” she pleads, “don't be so negative.”
“And I guess you are going to tell me things aren't negative.”
“No, I'm not, but it's nobody's fault. Albert is sick.
It's not his fault, and it sure as heck isn't my fault.”
“If Coach Kennedy had picked him for the team, Albert would be here at school,” Danny insists. “The Formidable Four would still be together. Now look where we're at. We're nothing.”
“Coach Kennedy couldn't pick Albert. Not the way he was playing. And even if he had, Albert would still be sick and unable to play,” she says.
“He can play,” Danny argues. “He's just too embarrassed to come to school because he didn't make the team.”
Molly looks at Murphy and then Jeff. They both shrug their shoulders as if to say,
What can we do?
“Mom says in a few weeks Albert will be going to Vancouver to get his cancer treated,” Murphy says.
“He doesn't have cancer,” Danny snaps. “He's got leukevia.”
“Leukemia,” Molly corrects him. “It's a type of cancer.”
“No way,” Danny cries. “That's not true. That's not what my mom says.”
“Danny,” Murphy shouts. “Stop it. Stop denying it. None of the rest of us like it either, but Albert's got cancer, and we can't do anything about that.”
Jeff butts in, “Yeah, Danny, but we can do something to help him out. If
hate thinking about Albert being sick, can you imagine how
Danny turns and looks at Jeff. “What do you mean we can do something about it?”
Molly says, “That's what Dad and I were talking about. There's a few things that really suck for Albert right now. First, he isn't coming to school. Second, he's not getting to the soccer games. Third, his family doesn't have enough money to travel to Vancouver to be with him while he's in treatment. With Christmas coming, that's double bad. And fourth, he doesn't have any friends anymore, because we've all ditched him.”
“We haven't ditched him,” Danny says. “He ditched us.”
“I know, but no one's been to see him,” Molly says. “He's ditching us because he's afraid. And we're letting him ditch us because we're afraid. That's what Dad says is happening.”
“Whatever you say,” Danny shrugs. “I'm listening.”
Molly says, “We should convince him to come back to school, even if he doesn't feel very well.
At least for the soccer games. He can hang out with Coach Kennedy. Maybe Albert can help him coach.”
“And Mom agrees that we should do a fundraiser to help the family,” Murphy says. “She says she'll help.”
“Awesome,” Molly says. “'Cause that's what Dad says as well.”
Danny puckers his brow and says, “I got a question here. What's Albert got to do with you and your dad, anyway?”
“I'm Murphy's friend, and Albert's Murphy's friend, so I'm Albert's friend,” she says. “That's how it works. That means I'm your friend too. Even if you don't know it.”
Danny frowns and shakes his head. “I guess,” he says.
“And one more thing,” Murphy says. “While we're talking about changing things up around here, I was thinking about the Formidable Four. It doesn't exist anymore. We're the Riverside Strikers now, and that's even better. It's not just about us. It's about the team. There are lots of guys on the team,” Murphy holds up his fingers as if he's counting. “There's Reza, Walker, Bingo, Leroy, Bobby and a bunch more. And when Albert gets better, he'll be part of the team.”
“There's Reuben and Troy,” Jeff says.
“And that guy named Zeke,” Danny adds.
After school the boys decide that everyone shouldn't go to see Albert at onceâJeff and Murphy will go first. They will tell him about Molly's plan and see what he has to say.
“Let's go to Albert's house right now,” Jeff says when the bus stops in front of his house.
“No, I gotta go home first,” Murphy says. “I got some stuff to do for Mom. I'll be over in half an hour.”
“Okay, meet me here.”
When Jeff gets off, Murphy's the only student left on the bus.
“Did you hear about Albert?” the bus driver hollers over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I did,” Murphy says. He wanders up to the front.
“What a bad deal that is, eh?” Uncle Spencer says. “How's he doing?”
“I don't know,” Murphy says. “I haven't seen him.”
“You haven't seen him? No way,” Uncle Spencer says. “I thought you boys were his best friends.”
“We are,” Murphy says, hearing how lame it sounds.
The bus lurches to a stop near Murphy's house. He jumps off the bus.
“I'm going to visit him now,” he calls over his shoulder. “I'll let you know how he is tomorrow.”
Murphy races into the house, drops his backpack, grabs a banana and runs back out the door to Jeff's house. His chores can wait.
It's been almost two weeks since Murphy's seen Albertâand they are best friends. Molly's dad is right.
Murphy was afraid. He still is afraid. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know how to act around a sick guy. Cancer, leukemiaâit sounds so scary.
“What are we going to say to him?” Jeff says when Murphy gets to his house.
Murphy says, “Since when have we ever been worried about what to say to Albert?”