“The Best,” Friend, Feb. 2001, 18
“Jake! Jake!” hollered my little brother, Sam. “Come and see me.”
“Not now,” I called back, grabbing my hockey stick and heading onto the ice. My team, the Sharks, had a game to play, and I needed to warm up.
“What did Sam want?” asked my friend Joel. He didn’t have any little brothers, so he didn’t understand how Sam could be more annoying than ten mosquitos buzzing in your ears.
“Nothing important, I’m sure,” I said, gliding across the ice. “Let’s practice shooting.”
A few minutes later, the buzzer went off, and the players headed to their boxes for last-minute instructions.
“The Sharks will have to keep the puck away from Number Fifteen,” Coach warned as we huddled around him. “And we’ll have to pass the puck a lot, because the Jets are fast. Just remember to look for an open teammate.”
The clock buzzed again, and we skated onto the rink for the face-off. The referee dropped the puck between the two centers, their sticks clacked together, then the puck skittered toward me and I hooked it with my stick. A second later, a Jet defender raced in front of me. I remembered Coach’s advice and managed to pass the puck away just before he grabbed it.
The puck ricocheted all over the rink, with both teams skating hard to score. With only two seconds left in the first period, the Sharks finally managed to slip the puck past the Jet goalie and into the net.
“Yes!” cheered our team, banging our sticks against the boards as the clock buzzed, ending the period.
“Good job,” Coach said as we headed for the locker room. “Jake, I could see that you really listened to me. You made some great passes.”
“Thanks.” I could feel the sweat running down my face, and my legs ached from racing around the rink, but I didn’t mind. The Coach knew I’d paid attention and tried. That made me feel like I’d won a gold medal.
No one scored in the second period, but at the beginning of the third period, the Jets scored and tied the game. After that, both teams fought hard for the puck, but no one kept it long enough to score again. Then, with only thirty seconds left in the game, the Jets’ Number Fifteen intercepted a pass. He quickly stickhandled the puck down the rink with short, back-and-forth movements. None of the Sharks could catch him. Our goalie crouched down in front of the cage, trying to anticipate the shot, but Number Fifteen managed to send the puck flying into the corner of the net. The Jets had won the game, and I felt like a balloon that someone popped with a pin.
“You played a great game,” Joe told me, slapping my back as we lined up to shake hands with the Jet players. Joe always tried to cheer me up. He was the best friend a guy could have.
“Jake,” Sam called again as the Jets headed to the locker room.
“I’ll see you at home,” I said, pulling off my helmet. “I have to shower and change.”
I hurried inside. I knew that Sam would talk to me all night, anyway. After I changed, I looked for Joe but couldn’t find him.
“He left as soon as we finished playing,” someone told me. I grabbed my duffel bag and headed out alone. I’d call Joe later and ask him to come over.
When I got home, I pulled off my jacket and hat. Then I stared at the floor. Another duffel bag sat there, and Joe’s jacket was plopped on top of it.
“Is Joe here?” I asked my dad.
“He’s in the family room with Sam,” Dad said.
I went into the family room and saw Sam lying on the couch, with Joe sitting in a chair by his side.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My stomach started hurting at the hockey game,” Sam said. “You were busy, so I told Joe.”
“I didn’t mind walking home with him,” Joe said. “He told me he didn’t feel well, so I just came right here after the game.”
“Oh,” I said, finally noticing that Joe still had his uniform on.
“See you later, big guy,” Joe told Sam, standing up and stretching. “Then you can tell me all about that poster you’re drawing.”
“What poster?” I asked.
“The one I’m making for science class,” said Sam. “It has whales on it. Joe likes to know what I’m doing.”
“Oh,” I said again as Sam pulled a blanket up over his shoulders.
“Do you need anything?” I asked him, feeling kind of guilty.
“No, I’m fine,” said Sam, and his droopy eyes started to close.
Joe left, and I dragged my duffel bag to our laundry room. I thought about Sam as I put my hockey uniform into the washing machine. Coach had said I did a good job of listening, but when it came to Sam, I usually ignored him. No wonder he’d asked Joe to bring him home. Joe listened to Sam just like he always listened to me. He made Sam feel important; I treated Sam like a pest. I definitely didn’t feel proud of that.
After supper that night, I did something different. Instead of calling Joe, I picked a book about whales off my shelf. Then I went into the family room, where Sam was watching television. “Have you seen this book yet?” I asked him, showing him the killer whales on the cover.
“Cool!” Sam smiled at me. “Did you read that?”
“Yeah. Actually, I like whales, too. Maybe I can help you with your poster.”
“Really?” he asked. “Do you really want to help me?”
“Really,” I said, opening the book. “Show me your favorites.” Sam hesitated for only a second. Then he started turning pages and talking ten miles a minute.
This time I listened. Just maybe, one day Sam will think that I’m the best brother a guy could ever have.