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Authors: Matt Christopher

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Doug Nardi will get over it, too. Let’s hope he won’t get discouraged and quit.

Jim felt a ball lodge in his throat. He glanced over the news item again, then looked at Bucky. “No,” he said huskily. “Doug
doesn’t have that clipping. I know he doesn’t. I’ve read his scrapbook a dozen times.”

Bucky grinned. He took the scrapbook and flipped it to a page near the end. “Here. Read this,” he said.

LANCEY BOBCAT STAR

MAKES ALL-STATE

Doug Nardi, brilliant end for the Lancey High Bobcats, was selected All-State end by a committee of coaches and sportswriters.
Doug, a senior, had scored
the highest number of receptions in the Tri-County School League and scored the second highest number of touchdowns.

Jim didn’t read any further. This one was familiar.

“Doug’s got this one,” he said, smiling. “Well, why not? I’d save a clipping like that myself!” Then he frowned. “Why did
you want me to read that other one, Bucky?”

Bucky shrugged. “Well, I just thought it might make you feel better if you knew that you’re not the only one who ever got
scared of being tackled. And who knows? You might turn out like Doug! You might even become a pro!”

Jim laughed. “Not me,” he said. “Never.”

But he felt better. He had never known that about Doug. Doug had never said anything about his fear of being tackled.

No wonder Doug’s been easy with me,
reflected Jim. He knows what it’s like to be scared, and he wants to help me without hurting my feelings.

He rose from the chair. “I’m going, Bucky,” he said. “Thanks a lot.”

“That’s okay,” said Bucky.

Jim didn’t tell anyone at home about the clipping. Maybe he never would. It wasn’t important to anyone else, anyway. Only
to him.

All week long, except Friday, Coach Doug Nardi drilled his offense on off-tackle, end-around, and pass plays, and Bill Clark
drilled the defense.

“C’mon, Ben! Pick up your feet one at a time and move ’em!” Doug would shout to the skinny left end. And to right guard Roger
Lacey, “You’re not posing for a picture, Rog! Move at the snap!”

Jim Nardi wasn’t overlooked, either.
“You’re looking for daylight, Jim! That’s a fullback’s job! Tear through! Get after the ballcarrier! Bring ’im down!”

They played the Saturns on the North Field on Saturday. A strong west wind swept thick clusters of clouds across the sky,
and a threat of rain hung in the air. But it didn’t rain, nor did the threat of rain keep the crowd away.

The Saturns, who wore blue uniforms with white stripes and white numbers, had won a game and lost a game, while the Vulcans
had two losses behind them.

The Vulcans won the toss and chose to receive. For most of the first quarter, neither team could get deep into the other’s
territory, and the fullback’s kept busy punting. The punts were usually short for the Vulcans, usually long for the Saturns,
for the wind was in their favor.

At last the exchange of punts gave the
Saturns an edge. They had pushed the Vulcans back to their own six-yard line. Chris faded back to pass and was smeared in
the end zone, giving the Saturns a safety. Two points.

In the second quarter, Chris took a poor snap from center Terry Nabors. He fumbled trying to hand it off to Ronnie Holmes.
A Saturn picked it up and galloped down an open field for a touchdown. The try for point missed. The half ended with the Saturns
leading 8–0.

In the third quarter, the Vulcans’ short passes to the ends picked up three to six yards each time. Then, from the twenty-two,
Ronnie bolted through a wide open hole at left tackle and went all the way. He tried for the conversion and made it. Eight
to seven.

The teams played a tight game up to within the last minute of the fourth quarter.
The Vulcans were facing the wind, just as they had when the game started. The second half had started with the Saturns facing
the wind. They. had had their choice of receiving or choosing a goal.

It was Vulcans’ ball on the Saturns’ eighteen. First and ten.

“Take Ken’s place!” Doug ordered Yak Lee. “And tell Chris to keep it on the ground!” Yak ran in, and Ken Morris ran out.

They gained nine yards in three tries.

“Tell Chris to have Ronnie boot one between the uprights!” ordered Doug. Ken raced in as Yak raced out.

And that’s exactly what Ronnie did, kicked one between the uprights. A field goal. The Vulcans won their first game 10–8.

Jim went to church on Sunday morning, then got his model airplane, paint, paint thinner, and brush and went into the garage.
It was a windy day. So windy you hated to step outdoors. Fortunately, the wind blew from the south and wasn’t bitterly cold.
That, though, was the only good thing you could say for it.

Jim played most of yesterday’s football game all over again in his mind. He hadn’t contributed much to winning it, but he
was glad he hadn’t done anything bad, either. He had had no chances for interceptions, so there had been no chance for him
to freeze into a statue. Heck, people went to see statues in museums, not on a football field!

Suddenly the door opened and the wind rushed in. As Jim turned quickly to see who was there, his hand struck the can of paint
thinner. The liquid splashed on the heater and
Boom
! It exploded into a giant whitish flash, and Jim went crashing to the floor.

“Jim!” someone yelled in a high, shrill voice behind him.

9

C
lose the door!” shouted Jim.

The wind was fierce. Chuckie Gorman had all he could do to shut the door.

Jim felt a searing pain on his right arm and saw that the sleeve of his sweater was on fire. He slapped at it with his other
hand and put it out. Then he struggled to his feet and stared at the flames that were nibbling at the bench and chewing hungrily
at the window curtain.

Terror seized him. Should he call the fire department? But the fire might spread before they got here! He looked at Chuckie.
Chuckie’s face was white and his eyes big as golf balls.

“Stay there, Chuckie!” he ordered. “Don’t come any closer!”

He looked around frantically and saw a water pail. But what good was an empty water pail? A long bamboo rod stood in the corner.
It had been there ever since his mom and dad had purchased their living room rug.

He glanced at the burning curtains. They were beyond saving, but the fire could start on the wood. And a good start would
get the garage blazing in no time.

Jim grabbed the bamboo rod and with it yanked the curtains off their hooks and pulled them to the floor. The fire had already
started on the wood. Blue and orange tongues of flame were licking fiercely at the casing above the window.

“Jim! Shall I go for help?” yelled Chuckie.

“No! Don’t open that door! The wind will make it worse!”

Jim rushed to the heater and turned it off. The fire was spreading on the bench. If he had on a coat instead of a sweater

The tent! The tent they took camping every summer.

He looked up. There it was, folded, directly above his head, lying across two joists. He got it down with the bamboo rod and
spread it over the burning curtains. A few seconds later, he removed it. The fire was out. He flung the tent over the burning
bench, stamped it flat, then looked for something with which to smother the flames eating away at the window casing.

“Here, use my hat!” offered Chuckie. “It’s leather!”

“Thanks, Chuckie!” Jim took the hat, climbed on the bench, and swatted at the flames as if they were flies. The flames
flickered, then died, leaving only black, scorched wood. Jim coughed from the smoke that was filling the garage. Then he jumped
off the bench, tossed Chuckie back his hat, and lifted the tent.

“Well, the fire’s out!” he cried, wiping his smarting eyes. “But I’ve got to clear out this darn smoke!”

He started for the door, but Chuckie spun the wheelchair and opened it for him. The wind whistled in, and the smoke swirled
out. Jim pushed the burnt curtains into a pile and carried them out to the trash can. Mr. and Mrs. Nardi, Doug, and Karen
came rushing down the sidewalk from the back porch.

“Jim! What happened?” Mr. Nardi yelled frantically.

“A fire,” answered Jim, his voice calm but his heart still pounding. “It’s out, though. But we’ll have to buy new curtains.”

Mr. Nardi removed the cover of the trash can, and Jim pushed in the ruined curtains.

“Know what we need, Dad? A fire extinguisher. I wouldn’t have had any trouble if we’d had a fire extinguisher in the garage.”

He had to explain how it all happened. But Chuckie took the blame. He said the fire wouldn’t have started if he hadn’t come
into the garage. Jim said no. That if he hadn’t been careless, he wouldn’t have tipped over the can of paint thinner.

Jim’s dad settled it by saying, “Never mind. Just thank God neither of you got hurt and you got the fire under control.”

The model plane’s right wing and a tail piece had broken. But he could repair that, Jim thought.

“Look!” Mrs. Nardi suddenly exclaimed, grabbing Jim’s arm. “Your sleeve’s burned right through! You must have burned your
arm, Jim!”

“Let’s see it,” said Doug. He pulled the sleeve gently up over Jim’s elbow, then unbuttoned the cuff and rolled up the shirtsleeve.
There was a large angry-looking burn a couple of inches above the wrist. And, man, was it sore.

“Let’s go into the house and put something on it,” advised Doug. “You’d better not practice football for a week. Give this
a chance to heal.”

Jim stared at his brother. He started to say something, but didn’t. He knew it wouldn’t do any good.

10

J
im didn’t go to practice on Monday or Tuesday. He told only Bucky Hayes why he couldn’t practice. But by Tuesday noon it seemed
that everyone in school had heard about the fire and his burned arm.

“How bad is it?” asked Hook Wheeler during the lunch hour.

“It’s bandaged now,” replied Jim. “You can’t see it.”

“Chuckie said it was pretty bad,” said Dil. “He was there when the fire started and saw it all.”

“I believe it,” said Hook, looking hard at Dil. “I didn’t say I didn’t believe it, did I?”

He brushed by Dil and walked away, his hands stuck into his pockets. Dil looked after him a bit, then turned to Jim. “I don’t
know why I keep being friends with that guy. He’s got a head as hard as nails. Would you believe he thinks you’re faking?”

Jim frowned. “He does?”

“Sure, he does. He told me so this morning. He says that little burn is only your excuse not to play.”

Jim bit down on his lower lip. “He’s a punk,” he said. “Hook’s a darn punk.”

Dil grinned. “Don’t let him hear you say that.”

“I don’t care if he hears me or not,” replied Jim. “You can even tell him what I said if you want to. I’ve had enough of him,
anyway.” He spun around, then went and sat
in the gym, alone and miserable. Darn that Hook. And darn football. He wished he had never started playing the game.

On Wednesday afternoon he showed up at the field in his football gear. The guys, and Doug, looked at him in surprise.

“Thought I told you not to come to practice this week,” said Doug.

“I feel okay and my arms okay,” replied Jim seriously. “I can practice.”

“I gave you an order,” said Doug in a stone-hard voice. “If you want to keep that uniform on, okay. But just run around the
field. Handle the ball once or mix with the guys, and you’re off the squad.”

Jim stared at his brother. Doug’s eyes were like steel, and Jim knew that he meant every word he said.

He ran around the field three times, then trotted home. He went to the field again on
Thursday. He didn’t wear his uniform, only his sweatshirt. He ran around the field ten times, then, without changing his pace,
ran all the way home.

On Saturday he asked Doug if he could put on his uniform. “When I said a week, I meant a week. If you wear that uniform, don’t
expect to play,” said Doug emphatically.

Jim eyed his brother. The newspaper clipping about Doug’s early football days in high school flashed through his mind, and
he felt an urge to taunt Doug about it. But that was a coward’s move if there ever was one. He’d never do that.

At last he shrugged. “Okay,” he said. “But can I practice next week?”

“Sure. Starting Monday.”

The Vulcans played the Cadets on the South Field. The Cadets had a perfect win record so far, having beaten the Vulcans
once already, as well as the Saturns and the Astrojets.

Within three minutes after kickoff, the Cadets scored a touchdown on a twenty-two-yard pass, then converted. Before the quarter
was over, they scored again, this time failing on the conversion try.

Jim, sitting on the bench near where Chuckie Gorman, Chuckie’s parents, and his own parents were seated in the stands, watched
the game with a sick feeling in his heart. There had been times when he wished he hadn’t started to play football because
of his fear of being tackled. But now he realized that his desire to play was stronger than ever. It hurt to sit here on the
bench and be a spectator. It hurt to know he couldn’t go into today’s game even if he were the Vulcans’ star player.

He was sore. Real sore. Doug at least let him put on a uniform and sit on the bench.
But thinking about it, what good was it to sit on the bench in football gear if he couldn’t play?

Still, the desire to play stayed with him. He wanted to prove to Doug and everybody else that he was no longer afraid of being
tackled. That if he had a chance of intercepting a pass, he would, even if the entire opposing team came flying at him. The
desire kept building up inside him. He became nervous and fidgety.

The Cadets scored again in the second quarter and converted to lead the Vulcans 20–0.

Then Chris Howe uncorked a long pass to Pete Witz. Pete caught it in the left corner pocket and went over for the team’s first
touchdown. Jim rose in his seat, whistled, and yelled. He yelled louder than anyone else. Those who sat near him cheered along
with him. They didn’t know that this was
what he needed — that he was letting out all that built-up steam.

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