Nicky Delgado, Chapter 15

Nicky hardly listened to the speeches the next day in English class, including one by Bill Hosin on the Olympics, because he was so nervous about making his challenge in the next hour.

"You can do it, Nicky," Butch encouraged him on the way to the biology room. "You can beat Mr. Much."

In the room, they sat in their desks and waited for the teacher to arrive.

"Mr. Much," Butch stood when he came in the door three minutes after the bell. "Are you up for a wastebasket challenge?"

"A challenge, yes," Much's mouth twitched. "You're not worth my time, Simpson."

"I'm not going to play you," said Butch. "Nicky is."

"Really?" Much smiled. "Come up here, Nicky."

Nicky walked slowly to the front, sensing the uncomfortable gaze of his classmates on him.

"You don't have to feel embarrassed," said Much. "Everyone loses to me." He motioned to the trash can next to his desk. "Put the basket anywhere you like."

Nicky had his garbage can next to the wall at home, so he moved this one to a spot under a bulletin board.

"You go first," Much tossed him a paper wad.

Nicky took a stance by the teacher's desk and canned a fifteen-footer. He let out his breath. Making the first shot helped him relax.

"Not bad," Much retrieved the wad. He matched Nicky's shot easily.

Nicky tried other variations; bank shot, hook shot, and bounced off the floor; but his opponent made them all. Then he shot one backward over his shoulder.

"Aha!" Much exclaimed as he made the shot too. "I've practiced that one since Wanda used it against me."

Nicky sat in an unoccupied desk in the front row. "Left hand and eyes closed," he called the shot.

"Ooo, tricky," Much fidgeted.

Nicky missed. Having control for the first time, the teacher sunk a shot from behind his back.

Nuts, thought Nicky as he prepared to shoot. Behind the back shots were his weakness. He hoped to make the first one so Much wouldn't do any more of them. He missed.

"You've got a 'P'," Much said gleefully. He repeated the shot, but this time Nicky made it.

"Let's try your shot," said Much, sitting in the front row desk. He closed his eyes and made the shot using his left hand.

Nicky's hopes were fading. He couldn't win if Much never missed. He took the shot without concentrating and was surprised when it went in.

Much tried to shoot one underneath a leg and grunted in disgust when the wad hit his ankle and rolled half way to the basket. He missed, Nicky took consolation. He decided to change strategy. He kicked the wad into the trash can.

"What was that?" Much screeched. "We're playing basketball, not soccer."

"Who says you have to use hands?" Butch called from the back.

"All right, all right," said Much, positioning himself. "I can make this shot." He missed by two feet.

"This isn't fair," he sweated after Nicky kicked a second shot in. This time his wad hit the rim and rolled off. "Ugh!"

"Way to go, Nicky!" Butch clapped. "He's yours."

"I think it's time to change the basket," said Much, moving the trash can to the top of his desk.

"You can't do that," Butch protested.

"Of course I can, Simpson," Much stared him down. "This is my home court."

Nicky tried to kick the wad into the new location, but wasn't used to the added height and missed.

"Aha!" Much jumped in delight. "My turn."

He placed the wad on the floor about ten feet away from the can and huddled over it like a football center. "Hut, hut, hike!" He launched it into the basket.

That one isn't too hard, Nicky tried to convince himself although he had never practiced a shot like it. He crouched over the wad on the floor and looked at his target between his legs. He made it and heard the cheers of his classmates rooting for him.

"You made it," Much sneered. "That's it. I'm not having any more mercy on you, Delgado."

He took the trash can and set it inside the door. Then he took the wad with him into the hall.

He poked his head into the room. "You have to hold the handle of the first locker out here with your other hand."

The head disappeared and a hand with a paper wad crept around the doorpost. The class heard the teacher grunt as he stretched his body enough to get his whole forearm into the room. He flicked the wad into the trash.

"Let's see you make that one," he appeared triumphantly in the doorway.

Nicky fished the wad out and went into the hall. He took hold of the locker handle and stretched as far as he could. He could get only his wrist around the doorpost. I'm never going to make this shot, he told himself, and he didn't.

"I win! I win!" Nicky saw Much hopping from foot to foot when he returned to the room. "Nice game, Delgado."

Nicky was puzzled. He thought he had only two letters.

So did Butch. "Wait a minute," he shouted. "Nicky's only missed two of your shots."

"No, three," Much said smugly. "He missed that last one and two behind his back."

"I missed only one behind my back," Nicky spoke up. He remembered that distinctly.

"That's right," Norman Stalke stood in his defense. "Nicky's got only P-I." He beat his desktop and led the class in a chant. "P-I! P-I!"

"All right, all right," the teacher gave in. "I'm going to beat him anyway."

He repeated the same shot, but this time it fell short. Nicky sighed in relief. Much jumped inside as the class cheered.

"Crap!" he cursed when he saw the wad on the floor. He turned redfaced to his students with a hand over his mouth. "You didn't hear that."

Nicky figured he had one last chance to win. He decided to risk a special shot which he made only half of the time. He moved the wastebasket back to the top of Mr. Much's desk. Standing five feet away, he knocked the wad in off his forehead.

"Head butt!" Butch yelled.

Much looked at the trash in disbelief. "What is it with this soccer stuff?"

He retrieved the wad and took his position, wiping his forehead. He tossed up the wad and plowed into it with his face. It hit the side of the can.


"Way to go, Nicky!" Butch's shout carried over the other cheers of the class.

"Why did you have to win a wastebasketball match?" the defeated champion looked at Nicky forlornly. "You're getting an 'A' anyway." He looked so disconsolate that Nicky almost wished he hadn't beaten him.

"I'll be back," Much excused himself. "I have to go to the teacher's lounge."

He left, shoulders slumped, through the open door. Nicky returned to his seat, soaking in the congratulations and back thumps from his classmates. He had never felt so popular in his life. He wondered if being grounded for a month was worth it.

Much never returned to the class. The students spent the rest of the time talking, studying, or playing games. Butch and Nicky started to play table football across a desktop.

Wanda Tyler approached them. "Mind if I watch?" she asked.

"Nope," said Butch.

She pulled a chair to the side of the desk. Nicky wondered why she had come. She hadn't been around Butch or Eugene in weeks. Her presence made him nervous, especially when she began to look at him. He shot the triangular football off Butch's edge of the desk.

"Field goal," sang Butch as Nicky formed his hands into a goalpost.

"Nicky," said Wanda. "I didn't know that you're such a good shooter."

Butch's field goal hit Nicky in the face. He looked away, embarrassed.

"I'll play the winner," Wanda ventured.

"Okay," said Butch unenthusiastically.

He won as usual and squared off against Wanda. She won that game.

"I get to play you now," she told Nicky.

Butch gave Nicky his chair and left for some other part of the room. Nicky looked at the football on the desktop rather than the girl seated across from him.

"You go first," she shoved the football toward him.

He overshot, giving her a field goal attempt which she missed. Then he undershot so Wanda got a turn. She snapped the football with a forefinger and it slid off the desk into his lap.

"Come on, Nicky," she made a goalpost. "You can shoot a field goal."

He made it. Then, after they both undershot, she hit the end of the football so it spun almost in place on her side of the desk.


He was able to shoot the football to get it to hang over the edge several inches away.

"Touchdown," she applauded. "Good job, Nicky."

He missed the extra point, but still led nine to nothing. The game continued for a long time because he scored only one more touchdown, and she didn't get any. Finally, the bell interrupted the game with him in the lead.

"That was fun," she said. "We should finish the game some other time."

"Uh huh," he replied, not sure if he wanted to.

"Nicky." She waited for him to look at her. "Do you like me?"

He had trouble with his voice. "Sure," he croaked. He liked anyone who didn't give him a reason not to.

She left him sitting with a mind swirling full of thoughts. What does this mean? Does she like me or is she just being friendly? What am I going to do?

"Hey, Nicky," Eugene broke his concentration. "Is something the matter?"

"Oh, no," Nicky shook his head. "I was just thinking about something." He wasn't going to tell his friend that he was suffering from a dose of estrogen. He'd wait and talk to his sister after he got home.

Thankfully, Eugene didn't pry into the matter. The bell signaled the start of algebra class and Mr. Much still hadn't appeared. Nicky told Eugene about the wastebasketball match. Ten minutes later, the dejected teacher shuffled into the room. He mumbled out an assignment and slumped behind his desk while his students worked the problems.

Butch talked over lunch about his plans to take Peggy Warbler to the school dance. Nicky listened vaguely, wishing he could relate to girls as easily as Butch. He felt uptight, thinking Wanda might join them to eat, but she didn't come.

During the next free hour spent in the library, he worked on his history assignment while Butch read a car magazine. Nicky had decided to do a word search. Referring to his books, he wrote down words pertaining to the War of 1812 along with clues for them. Old Ironsides. Nickname of the U.S.S. Constitution. New Orleans. Location of the war's last battle. Jackson. American commander in that battle. Ghent. Belgian city where the peace treaty was negotiated.

He looked across the table at his friend engrossed in the magazine. He almost asked him if he thought Wanda liked him. Then he remembered how Butch had teased Eugene about her and decided not to mention it.

He pushed the matter to the back of his mind while he watched the last part of the film in history and listened to Miss Wainwright review the previous day's Spanish test on which he had gotten an 'A'. He eagerly arrived home, knowing he could talk to Emily. He didn't want to wait until after supper to talk to her, so he sat at the dinner table to do his homework in case his mother left his sister alone in the kitchen.

He used a piece of graph paper Eugene had given him to make the word search, putting in words from the list he had compiled in fourth hour. Then he wrote the clues below.

After forty minutes, he heard the garage door opening. His father was home early. He walked in from the garage carrying his brief case and a roll of poster board. He surprised his wife with a kiss when she came to take his coat and hat. Nicky relaxed. He liked having his father in a good mood.

"Here's your sheet," Mark left the roll on the table before heading to the living room.

Emily arrived with a stack of dishes for setting the table.

"I want to talk to you after supper," Nicky told her as he gathered his things to get out of the way.

He grabbed the poster board too, surprised that his father had remembered it, to take with him to his room. There he removed the rubber band from around it and curled it in the opposite direction to straighten it. Then he opened his library book containing the map of Berlin. After some thought on how to transfer the map to the poster board, he traced it on a page of notebook paper. He barely finished when he heard the call to supper.

Afterward, he used a ruler to draw a grid of squares over the tracing. Then he penciled a similar set of squares, eight times larger, on the poster board. Guided by the squares, he drew a reasonably accurate larger copy of the map.

Not until he wanted to color the map did he realize he didn't have any markers. He bet he could borrow some from Eugene, except he needed them before Monday. Although his speech wasn't scheduled until Tuesday, he had to be ready by Monday in case someone ahead of him was absent. He decided he could ask to use the telephone since his father was in a good mood.

He met Emily on the stairs and told her he'd come to her room. In the living room, he stood behind his father until he set down the section of the newspaper he was reading.

"Dad. Can I use the phone?"

"Yeh, sure."

Wow! Nicky thought. His father hadn't even asked him who he was going to call. He took the telephone from the end table from next to his father and sat on the carpet with it several feet away. He picked up the receiver, listened to the dial tone, and put it back down. Drat! Where had he put the Simpsons' number? Well, it had to be in the telephone directory. He looked it up. Simpson, Marshall & Benjamin. He found the number and dialed it.

"Yeh." Nicky recognized Marshall's voice.

"Is Eugene there?"

Eugene must have been nearby because he came on the line almost immediately. "Hello?"

"This is Nicky."

"Nicky! What are you calling for?"

"I'm making a visual aid for my speech. Do you have some markers I can use?"

"Yeh, some nice fat ones. Do you want me to bring them over?"

Nicky was taken aback. "Tonight?"

"No. Butch is having an estrogen attack. We can stop by tomorrow sometime."

Nicky looked at his father. He'd better ask.

"Dad. Can Butch and Eugene stop by tomorrow to give me something I need for school?"

He fidgeted while his father delayed the answer. "I suppose, as long as they don't come into the house," he said eventually.

Nicky spoke into the mouthpiece. "Can you come in the morning?"

"That depends on Butch," Eugene replied. "I'll call you if we can't."

Nicky said goodbye to his friend and went to Emily's room.

"What do you want to talk about?" his sister looked up from her needlepoint.

Nicky felt the flush of embarrassment in his face. "A girl."

"Really?" Emily set aside her project. "What's her name?"

"Wanda. I think she likes me." At least, Nicky hoped she did. "She talked to me in biology class today."

"What's she like?"

"She's about your height and has kind of short hair. It's black."

Emily kept asking questions, many of which Nicky couldn't answer, like where she lived and what she liked to do.

Nicky wanted advice. "What should I do?"

"You can do lots of things," said Emily. "Eat lunch with her. Do your homework together. Invite her to Spanish Club."

Nicky pressed his hands together. "I'm too scared to do any of those things."

"Just talk to her then. I liked it when Harvey talked to me."

"I never know what to talk about."

"You always have things to talk to me about."

"That's different," said Nicky. "You're my sister."

"I don't know why," Emily shrugged her shoulders. "We're both girls. If you can talk to me, you should be able to talk to her."

Nicky wondered. How could he feel so comfortable around his sister, but be so terrified of any other girl?

* * * * *

He didn't notice until after he returned from the bathroom the next morning. There was snow outside. He rushed to the window for a closer look. It covered everything in a white blanket, including the branches of all the trees. He hadn't thought snow could look so beautiful.

He ran downstairs and found Emily in the kitchen. "Emily, let's check out the snow," he urged.

"I have to make Dad's breakfast," she said. "I'll go out with you later."

Nicky couldn't wait. He quickly put on his coat, stocking cap, boots, and mittens. He was about to finally find out what snow really felt like.

Outside the door, he removed a mitten to grab a handful. Eugene was right. It felt like ice. And wet. He soon dropped it because it was so cold and put his hand back into the mitten. Then he reached for the snow with both hands.

It sticks together, he observed. I can make a snowman. He went to the center of the yard and started scraping the inch deep snow together and packing it into a mound. His mittens quickly became soaked and his fingers throbbed with pain.

He heard Butch's Impala approaching on the street and watched it slide into the curb in front of the house. Butch jumped out.

"Check out this snow! What do you think, Nicky?"

"It's great."

Butch balled some snow from the hood of his car and whirled it at Nicky. "Time for your first snowball fight."

Eugene joined Nicky against Butch. Even so, Nicky suffered some good hits. The worst shot was one on the back of his neck because a lump of snow fell inside his clothes and froze his skin until it melted. Despite that, he had tremendous fun and didn't feel as cold as he would've thought.

His father stopped the snowball fight when he poked his head out the door and yelled at them not to throw snowballs by the house. Eugene took a stand over Nicky's attempt at building a snowman.

"I'll show you how to make a snowman," he offered.

He packed a large snowball and rolled it along the ground. Butch started one also. Nicky watched at first, amazed at how quickly the balls grew, before beginning his own. Later they stacked the balls, making Nicky's the head because it was the smallest.

"I have to go inside," Nicky shivered. "I'm freezing. I wish you guys could come with me, but my father doesn't want you to."

Eugene retrieved the markers from the car and Nicky thanked his friends for coming before they left. He stepped inside the door to find Emily putting her coat on.

"I'm too cold to go out with you," Nicky told her regretfully. "Look. We built a snowman."

"Oh, neat," said Emily, looking out the window.

She put on her boots and went out. Nicky watched her from inside for a minute while she checked out the snow, and then went to his bedroom with Eugene's markers. He colored his map, using different colors for the American, British, French, and Soviet sectors of Berlin. He indicated the wall with a thick black line and labeled the landmarks around it such as the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie.

He couldn't take a walk around the block until the next day because his winter clothes needed that long to dry. By then most of the snow had already melted. He paused by Pete Warbler's house, where Nicky had seen basketball games in nicer weather.

He couldn't remember ever seeing Pete's sister, and wondered what Butch's latest girlfriend looked like. Then he started thinking about Wanda again. He wished he wouldn't get so nervous. He knew he had to try to talk to her the next day at school even though he dreaded it. Like gym class, he couldn't wait for it to be over.

* * * * *

Nicky took his seat in biology class with his stomach in knots as he fretted about encountering Wanda. He pretended to listen to Butch talking to him while he kept watch on the door for her arrival.

"What about you, Nicky?"

"What?" Nicky wished he knew what Butch had asked him.

"Do you dream in color or not?"

Nicky thought for a moment. "I don't know," he couldn't decide.

"Well, in my dream," Butch continued whatever story he was telling. "I knew I had to convince Marshall that I didn't hit his car or I was dead meat. I thought of telling him that Irving hit it with his bike, but I didn't think he'd believe me. Then I got a better idea. I painted green spots all over my skin, like I had some rare tropical disease, so I would have to be quarantined and Marshall couldn't touch me you see."

Nicky's attention focused on Wanda as she entered the room. He hoped she would come and talk to him. That would be so much easier, but she sat in her desk without even looking in his direction.

All during class, Nicky considered things to say to her but they all seemed stupid. As the end of the hour approached, he became so nervous that he could barely tolerate the pressure. His insides felt like he was on the steepest roller coaster in the world.

The bell rang and Nicky hoped Butch would leave quickly so he could talk to her without him around. However, she headed for the door while Butch remained at his desk putting the finishing touches on a car he had drawn during class. I have to talk to her now or I never will, Nicky urged himself. He took a deep breath and forced himself to follow her.

He caught her in the hall. "Hi there," he wished his voice wasn't so shaky. "How was your weekend?"

"Not too bad," she replied. "Excuse me, but I have to find Holly."

He looked away at an unobtrusive row of lockers, fighting back tears. His guts felt like they were collapsing. He didn't understand. He had thought that Wanda maybe liked him. How would he ever tell when a girl liked him? He hurried to the bathroom where he could wipe his eyes dry without anyone seeing him. By the time he returned to the classroom, Eugene was there instead of Butch.

"Are you all right, Nicky?" his friend asked.

He felt foolish. "Yah. I'll be okay."

Read Chapter 16.

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