Read A Different Game Online

Authors: Sylvia Olsen

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A Different Game (9 page)

BOOK: A Different Game

“Since right now,” Jeff says. “He's angry, and I don't like Albert when he's angry.”

“And he's sick, and I don't know what to say when someone's sick,” Murphy admits. “But like Molly's dad says, Albert's afraid, even more afraid than we are.”

“Yeah,” Jeff says. “But I still don't know what to say to him. I still don't like it when he gets mad.”

“Me neither.”

The two boys walk past the soccer field to Albert's house. When they get to the door, Jeff knocks lightly. Murphy feels like a bird's flying around in his stomach.

“Jeff? Murphy?” Albert's mom looks surprised. “It's been a long time. Nice to see you.”

Her shoulders are slumped. There are folds under her eyes and a deep crease on her forehead that Murphy hasn't noticed before.

“Come in,” she says. She sounds uncertain, as if she's not sure whether the boys should be there. Rennie and Louie, Albert's little sister and brother, don't seem to be around, and the house is unusually quiet.

Mrs. Adams shuffles down the hall to Albert's room while the boys stand nervously by the front door.

She says something in a muffled voice.

“I didn't invite them over,” Albert says, loudly enough for the boys to hear.

Again his mom speaks. Murphy can tell from her tone that she's trying to convince Albert of something.

“Tell them I don't feel very well,” he says rudely.

She says, “You tell them,” and then shuts the door hard.

“You probably heard him,” she says when she comes back. “I don't know what to do. He won't come out of his bedroom.”

“Can we go in to see him?” Murphy asks.

“Sure. But I don't know if he'll be very nice to visit.”

Mrs. Adams looks tired and defeated—like she's played a hard game and lost 3–2 in overtime.

“That's okay, Mrs. Adams. We have to try,” Jeff says. “We're sorry we didn't come earlier.”

“That's okay, boys,” she says. “I know it's hard on everyone.”

Murphy taps on the door. “Albert? Albert?” he calls. “Can we come in?”

There is no response.

“Hey, Albert, come on, bro,” Jeff says. “We're here to visit with you.”

It's quiet.

Murphy turns the door handle and opens the door slightly. “You okay with us coming in?” he asks.

Albert sits hunched over on his bed. The sun coming in behind his back makes him look small. When Murphy gets closer, he can see that Albert's skin is pale and his face looks thin.

“Hey, Albert,” Jeff says, “What's up with you?”

“A whole lot, as you can see,” Albert says. “It's just one big party in here. I'm having a great time. That's why you guys came over, isn't it? To have a great time with Albert.”

Murphy takes a deep breath. He's afraid to speak. If he says something nice, Albert's going to snap back. He can't think of anything to say about soccer or school. And he's scared to say anything about Albert's sickness.

Jeff smiles nervously. He looks as uncomfortable as Murphy feels. The room is quiet and still except for the sound of Albert breathing. It sounds like someone blowing up a balloon.

Without thinking too much, Murphy blurts out, “We know you are sick. That must totally suck. It totally sucks for us too, 'cause we miss hanging out with you.”

Albert and Jeff look surprised. Even Murphy can't believe he was so straightforward.

“Yeah, I am,” Albert says. “And yeah, it does.”

Suddenly Murphy feels better. The words had been stuck in his throat, and once they came out, talking wasn't as hard as he thought it would be.

“We really miss you on the soccer team,” Jeff says.

Albert swallows hard. “You do?”

“He's not kidding,” Murphy says. “It's not the same without you. You were the one who made a goalie out of me.”

“Oh yeah, well, this is the end of the game for me,”

Albert says, squinting to hold back tears.

He can't talk like that, Murphy thinks. He has to be positive, like Molly says. It'll help him feel better.

Jeff and Murphy sit on the bed next to Albert.

“It's not the end of anything,” Jeff says.

“What do you know about it?” Albert barks and moves away.

“Nothing,” Jeff admits. “I don't know anything about being sick.”

“Yeah, well, I'll tell you something about it,”

Albert's voice is loud now. He sits up straight and looks at the boys through the tears in his eyes. “It stinks.

It stinks like a rotten pig. It's like a great, big freaking black cloud is hanging on top of my head all the time. It never goes away. Sometimes it sinks down so far that I'm smothered. It's all around my face. I can hardly breathe. The cloud comes up my nose, and the stink of it gets stuck in my head. It doesn't lift off. Not even for one minute. It stinks. It just stinks.”

Tears spurt out of Albert's eyes.

Murphy's jaw drops. Never in a million years would Murphy have imagined hearing words like that coming from Albert.

“That sounds awful,” Jeff says. His eyes are wide and wet with tears.

Albert slumps over and says, “It's never going to go away. Never.”

“No, Albert, no,” Jeff says. “Never say never. I was looking on the computer and finding out stuff about the sickness you got. You're going to get better, and you'll play soccer again.”

“Does it say that on the computer?” Albert snaps. “Does your computer say that Albert Adams's leukemia is going to go away, that Albert is going to go back to school, that Albert is going to play soccer?

Does it say that? I want to see where it says that.”

“Okay, so it doesn't say those words exactly, but it says that tons of kids get over childhood leukemia.”

“Does it also say that some kids don't get over it?”

Albert is talking quietly now.

“I don't know about that,” Jeff says. “I just want
to get better. I read a story on the Internet about a professional football player who had leukemia when he was a kid. He was twelve, just like you. And now he's playing for the Montreal Alouettes.”

Murphy says, “That's why we're here, bro. We're here because we're going to help you get better.”

“What can
do about it?” Albert wipes his eyes and nose on the back of his shirt. “There's nothing you guys can do about it.”

“Uh-huh, there is,” Jeff says. “We might not be able to cure leukemia, but we can be good medicine.

Mom says that friends are the best medicine there is.”

“Molly's dad was saying that feeling better has a lot to do with attitude,” Murphy says. “And the best medicine for attitude is friends.”

“We know you don't have the best attitude sometimes, so we're here to help you out with that part.”

Jeff slaps Albert on the back.

“And one other thing,” Murphy says. “We need you on the field whether you're playing or not. Coach Kennedy says you can help him watch the plays and you can—”

“I'm not going to the field,” Albert says. “Not unless I can play.”

“I think I know how you feel, but you gotta come out anyway,” Jeff says. “We want you there. You'll feel better if you get up and—”

“Did you guys know that after this treatment I'm doing now, I gotta go to Vancouver for some other kind of treatment?”

“Yeah,” Murphy says. “And we got some ideas about that. Molly wants to do a fundraiser so your mom and the kids can come and see you more often when you and your grandma are in Vancouver.”

“We got some great ideas, Albert,” Jeff says. “But we need you to help us help you.”

Albert shrugs his shoulders and sighs. “Won't do any good,” he says and then turns the other way.

“But, Al—,” Murphy starts, but before he can say Albert's name, Albert interrupts.

“Don't bother, you guys,” he says. “It's no use.”

“No, Albert,” Murphy says, more determined this time. He knows leukemia is a serious disease, but he'd read on the Internet that there were plenty of treatments. They weren't nice treatments, but they worked.

“There's lots of reasons for us to bother.”

“I don't want to go to school,” Albert says. “I didn't make the team. That's the only thing I wished for, and now look at me.”

“Come on, Albert,” Murphy pleads. “Just think about it.”

“I don't feel like it,” Albert says. His voice is louder than before. “Why don't you guys just go now?”

Murphy and Jeff get up, but before they go out the door, Murphy says, “You can feel bad at school just as well as you can feel bad at home.”

“Hey, Mrs. A.,” Murphy says when they meet her in the kitchen on their way out. “Tell Albert there's practice after school tomorrow. We'd sure love it if he showed up.”

Chapter Fifteen

The next day the boys walk slowly up the hill to the field.

“I guess Albert decided not to come,” Murphy says.

“Did you really think he'd show?” Jeff asks and then turns toward the parking lot just in time to see Albert slam his mom's car door.

He is out of breath by the time he reaches the boys on the field. Jeff gives him a high five while Murphy and Danny slap his back.

“Good to see you, Albert,” Murphy says.

“Really good,” the other boys say.

Coach Kennedy has a chair waiting next to the soccer bags.

He blows the whistle and hollers, “Everyone over here for a huddle.”

All the players gather together.

“I don't know if all you guys know this fellow,” Coach Kennedy says, placing his hand on Albert's shoulder. “His name is Albert Adams. He didn't have enough time earlier in the season to show us how good he is. But I got a call last night from Rudy Richards, Riverside's most famous soccer player, and he told me that he's never seen a grade-seven player better than this guy. The trouble is, Albert's got a nasty disease, and it's going to take some time for him to get better. So when he's feeling well enough, Albert's going to help me with some of my coaching duties. He's going to keep his eye on you players and let me know where he thinks you can improve.”

Some of the boys on the team look sideways at Albert as if to say,
Who the heck is he?
Others mumble, “Jeez, sorry to hear it.”

Danny speaks up. “Coach Kennedy is right. Albert's better than anyone on this team.”

“Rudy told me one more thing,” Coach Kennedy says. “He told me that the boys from the tribal school have a cheer, and with their permission I want to use it with the Riverside Strikers.”

Albert laughs out loud. It's the first time Murphy's heard him laugh in a long time.

“What do you think, Albert? Can we use it?” Coach Kennedy asks.

“Sure,” he says, looking at the other boys. “I guess so. What do you guys think?”

Jeff and Murphy nod.

Danny says, “Really, Albert, do you think it's okay?”

“Hey,” Albert says, “I got a call from Uncle Rudy last night, and he said I'm part of the team.”

“Well, then,” Coach Kennedy says. “Show us how it's done.”

The boys put their hands together, make the spokes of a wheel and shout:

What's our name? Yeah!

What's our name? Yeah!

Get 'er done and win the game!

Goooooo, Strikers!

“Come on,” Coach Kennedy says to all the boys. “Let's see if we can make some noise.”

The whole team puts their hands into the circle and shouts the cheer. When they are finished, Albert punches the air and says, “Yeah, let's go, Strikers.”

Chapter Sixteen

From then on, all the players of the Riverside Strikers and Coach Kennedy huddle at every practice and game and do the cheer.

Albert helps Coach Kennedy sub players in. He watches from the sidelines like he used to watch them on the field. He helps them improve their plays. Especially Danny, who is happy Albert is there to support him. Albert has a good eye for when a player is injured or isn't feeling well. Now that Albert stands on the sidelines, he takes a lot of interest in the players' health. Coach Kennedy loans him his first-aid materials and other books about sports injuries. In fact, since Albert hasn't been feeling well, he has started to like reading. Between Coach Kennedy and Molly, he has all the books he can read.

Molly and her dad, with the help of Murphy and his mom, Danny, Jeff, the other players and their parents, organize a fundraiser. They print posters and hang them on telephone poles and tack them to the notice boards in the school, in town and on the reserve.

5 PM
Come and enjoy a meal together.
There will be lots of good stuff at the auction
and lots of good music by
Rudy Richards and Arnold Adams.
Funds will be donated to the Adams family
to help with travel expenses to and from
the Children's Hospital.

Albert's mom brings dozens of homemade dinner rolls. Other parents bring spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, ravioli. Everyone knows that Albert's favorite food is pasta. Molly and her dad make salads. Mom bakes two cakes and puts them together to make the biggest cake Murphy has ever seen. She decorates it with soccer balls and goalposts to make it look like a soccer field. She writes
Get 'er done
in the middle. Murphy, Jeff and Danny set up the school gym. Coach Kennedy arranges the auction items people have donated. Albert's Uncle Arnold and Uncle Rudy set up their guitars and amplifiers next to the food tables.

By the time Ms. Clarkson welcomes everyone to the event, there are almost two hundred people sitting at the tables. Before they eat, Albert's grandmother stands up. She beats a hand drum and sings a prayer song. Then she thanks everyone for supporting her family and especially Albert.

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