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Chapter 10

We don’t need another hero

Brian came down his front walkway heading to school. He was anxious to meet Bug, to make up for Friday night, knowing how disappointed she must have been. Suddenly, Tray and Dino pulled up to the curb in front of Brian’s house. Tray leaned out the passenger side window of Dino’s car, the morning sun reflecting off his sunglasses. “Brian” he yelled. “Jump in, we’re going to Hollywood” Tray yelled with a huge smile on his face. Brian looked at him confused. “Take the sunglasses off, Tray” Dino said from the driver’s side, smacking tray on the arm. “Okay, okay” Tray said, pulling his shades off. “Seriously though Ferco, come on, jump in.” Brian looked down the sidewalk towards Bug’s house. “I’m good guys, really, thanks, but I’m supposed to meet someone” he said, turning back to Dino and Tray. “No way Ferco, heroes don’t walk to school” Tray protested. “Jump in, man.”  Tray saw Brian wince at the word hero. “Okay, okay, no seriously Brian, Kirk sent me a text. We have a team meeting every Monday before school. Coach told Kirk he forgot to tell you about it, Kirk told me, now I am telling you. You gotta be there, so, jump in.” Brian paused for a second and looked down the sidewalk, then reluctantly climbed into Dino’s car. Bug, sitting on her steps, felt her phone vibrate in her backpack. She paused, then reached in for it, glancing at the screen. It was a message from Brian. She clicked on the message.

“Sorry Bug, big meeting at school for basketball this morning have to be in early. See you later.”

Bug stood up and walked to the end of the sidewalk. She looked down towards Brian’s house, then turned and began walking to school.

Brian, Dino and Tray pulled into a spot of the school’s parking lot, then quickly hurried to the gym. Most of the rest of the team was already in the meeting, plugged into their phones, looking tired. Brian slid into a seat, used to being up early, he was anxious to get the meeting over with. Coach Miller entered the room. “Okay ladies, first things first, Woody won’t be here this morning he’s with Cindy Sandy at the hospital.” Brian looked at Tray. “Woody and Cindy Sandy used to go out” Tray explained. “Yeah, for like two years” Dino added. “I’m in a tough spot here, ladies” the coach continued. “I feel obligated to say thank you to Ferco for his little act of heroism this weekend, on the other hand, I question some of the choices that were made” and he paused to look around the room at the team. “Hanging around at the Head Bridge” he said with a questionable tone in his voice. “Nothing better to do on a Friday night. What possesses you guys sometimes?” he added, glaring around the room, moving from player to player, making eye contact with the Seniors, lingering on the younger players who simply stared at the floor. “And Ferco, don’t let these guys lower your IQ. You’ve made a good start with this team, don’t blow it” he added, looking at Brian, who said nothing. “Okay, ladies, that better be the last lecture I have to give this team about behavior. Now, let’s review Friday’s game.” Brian was miles away as the coach covered the highs and lows of the Dragon’s first game. There was no mention of him scoring the final 6 points, and certainly nothing about him ‘winning’ the game. Just a recap of the offensive alignments that worked and didn’t work, improvements to the defensive sets, and a preview of the upcoming opponent, Franklin High. Franklin lacked the big center they had just faced in Westfield, but more than made up for it with a collection of 3-point shooters that “cycled in and out in a seemingly endless rotation,” as coach Miller stated so eloquently. Brian was beginning to realize that there was no star on the Dragon’s basketball team. Even Kirk, who, as the quarterback, was the undisputed star of the Greenville football team, was just another player when it came to coach Miller’s basketball team. The team was a collection of guys who knew their role and excelled at it. What Brian did on Friday night was what was expected of him, and it came without fanfare. “I’ll have film on Franklin for anyone who wants to view it” coach Miller concluded, and the sound of the other players shuffling in their desks snapped Brian out of his musing, and he was glad the coach was finally setting them free.

Brian’s mornings, before basketball, were usually spent in the school lab, testing a theory or running a short experiment before homeroom, and he had been hoping to catch up this morning, but coach Miller’s meeting took care of that. At least I have lab today, Brian thought, knowing he needed to finish the current assignment with his lab partner William. That was later today, however, first would be first period and AP calculus, and as much as Brian loved the subject, he always thought it cruel to schedule the class at 8:10 in the morning, although Mr. Bennett laughed at that notion, often telling the class “calculus first thing, keeps you smart ‘til the final bell rings.” Mr. Bennett thought it was his job to “make math fun,” and Brian appreciated his attempt to engage the students who were only taking calculus because “they had to.” Brian was in the class because he wanted to be, the requirement of the course not figuring into it. And of course, Doris was in the class. She was already in her regular seat, front row center, when Brian walked in. He took his usual seat a few rows back and off to the left. Brian had read once that teachers participate more with students who sit on the left side of the classroom, the right side of the brain controlling logic. Doris turned to Brian. “You had a full weekend after I left you on Friday night” she said, then turned back around. Brian looked over at a couple of guys sitting near him, stunned looks on their faces, one guy mouthing “what?” Brian turned back toward the front just as Mr. Bennett hurried into the room. “Okay, Mr. Ferco, make a big deal about what you did this weekend or…?” and everyone turned to look at Brian, who quickly said, “please don’t,” and Mr. Bennett dropped his hands. “Okay then, the U-Substitution problem” he continued, and everyone but Doris and Brian groaned. “What did you guys come up with?” Mr. Bennett asked, looking around the room. Brian hadn’t worked on the problem in any new way and was hoping he wasn’t called on. “Brian, mind getting us started?” Mr. Bennett said as if he were reading Brian's mind, and Brian realized it was the first time that he could remember where he hoped a teacher hadn’t called on him.

“I did three substitutions” he said without conviction. His nights spent studying the Greenville plays instead of working on his calculus was showing. His answer was technically correct, but it lacked the imagination his solutions usually provided.

“That’s correct but…” Mr. Bennett said reluctantly, but Brian could see he was surprised at his lack of originality. Doris raised her hand. “May I use the board,” she asked, and Mr. Bennett held out the chalk. She walked to the front of the room and wrote out her solution, then confidently turned back toward the classroom with an air that if a stranger walked in at that moment, they would have assumed that Doris was the instructor rather than the student.

“That’s exactly right and highly original” Mr. Bennett said, taking the chalk from Doris as she moved back to her seat. Brian couldn’t help but be impressed, not only with Doris’ brilliant solution, but also her laid back, no big deal attitude. No challenge seemed too much for her, whether in the classroom, a social setting, or just walking the hall at school, and Brian couldn’t help but be attracted to her confidence and maturity. Brian was not much for fantasizing, but he had allowed himself the occasional thought of Doris and him together, married, of course, successful theoretical physicists or chemists, or both. He imagined them lecturing around the world, co-writing ground breaking papers, and of course, raising brilliant children. He envisioned the conversations the two of them would have together as they lay in bed at the end of the day, or the engaging discussions the Ferco family would have around the dinner table.

Finally, the bell rang, and Brian stood up to leave. He glanced at Doris, struggling for something to say to her as he moved to catch up. Suddenly, Kirk appeared at the door and stepped toward Doris. He saw Brian and nodded his head as Doris moved to stand next to him, turning to face Brian. Brian simply nodded back, then moved around them and out the door. Seeing Doris on Kirk’s arm, Brian wondered if she even saw physics or chemistry in her future, her other opportunities seeming to be unlimited. Brian hurried to lab, anxious to forget all the drama, and anxious to forget about basketball and Doris for a while.

“Hey, William” Brian said as he took a seat in one of the stools around the lab table. William had his head down, carefully checking the valve on a liquid nitrogen container. “Are we ready?”

“Yes, we are” William answered. “The liquid nitrogen is ready, and all the ingredients are under the table cloth.”

“Perfect” Brian said. He was feeling better already, relaxing in the comfort zone of the lab, waiting for Ms. Othan to start the class. Twice a month she held what she called her ‘experi-minutes’ where several sets of lab partners had 5 minutes to present an experiment, any experiment, as long as it was completed in the set amount of time. Ms. Othan encouraged the kids to let go, express themselves, and have fun, and she allowed a little extra time at the beginning of these classes for students to set up.

Brian and William sat quietly until William suddenly blurted out “so, did you really pull Cindy Sandy out of Valley Creek.”

Brian looked at William for a few seconds until finally nodding his head.

“She’s in the hospital right now, I mean, you see she is not here today, and coach Miller said Woody Bear is at the hospital with here, and you see he is not here today either” Brian explained.

“Oh, that much we know, it’s the part of you diving into Valley Creek, then out swimming Ed and Skylar, then pulling Cindy Sandy out of the water that is being disputed.”

“Disputed?” Brian asked.

“Not disputed” William corrected himself, “more like questioned?”

“Well, you can end the questions because it’s true, I jumped in and pulled Cindy out. But I wasn’t the only one in the water that night you know, Ed and Skylar helped rescue her too.”

“That is not the story going around, Brian. Rumor has it you were like Aquaman or something that night. My friend Tim’s dad is a game warden and the Head Bridge is part of his territory. He said the odds of you finding Cindy Sandy that night were a million to one. He also said that other people have drowned in that stretch of water, and because of the currents and under tow and the fact you can’t see anything in the water, it took days if not weeks sometimes to locate the bodies.”

Brian thought for a moment as William stared at him, seemingly waiting for some kind of answer or explanation. Should he share his discovery with William? Just blurt out “my legs can switch from fast twitch to slow twitch fibers based on a formula I invented and tested on myself? That’s why I could swim so fast, that is how I made the basketball team.” Why stop there, he continued thinking. Why not stand in front of the class, right now, no, even better, stand up at lunch today and announce it to the entire high school world. “I’m a phony! None of this is me! I can’t do any of this on my own! I am not a hero I’m a zero!”  Instead, he simply said “Look William, me finding Cindy Sandy that night was a one in a million shot, just like you said. Thank goodness, right?”

“I guess” William answered with some hesitation.

“And there were three of us in the water that night, and I wasn’t swimming like Aquaman, I was being pulled along with the current and I almost drowned myself. It was luck, pure luck that I found her, and you know how I feel about luck, right?”

William looked at Brian without saying anything.

“Do I look like a super hero to you I mean, come on, you know how everything gets exaggerated around here, I mean, have you heard those stories about the Head Bridge?”

William broke into a smile. “Yeah, you’re right, the Head Bridge. Bad things will happen to you” and he laughed.

Brian smiled too. “And just because Cindy Sandy kissed Frederick Knox’s bust doesn’t mean that’s why she fell.”

“What” William said, surprised. “What did you say?”

“You didn’t hear that part?” Brian asked, just as surprised.

“No, and this changes everything. The head bridge curse is real” William said in almost a whisper.

“No, it’s not, that’s not what I meant. Cindy Sandy fell because she was practicing her cheerleader moves on top of a bridge. Nothing more to it. Look, let’s get back to our assignment. I was hoping to forget this weekend for a while.”

“Fine, but once this gets out there won’t be any hiding from it, I mean, you guys practically proved the curse is real.”

“No, we didn’t. All we proved was being someplace we shouldn’t have been and doing stuff we shouldn’t have been doing leads to trouble. And I really hope you don’t believe that stuff, William, I mean come on, the curse of a covered bridge?”

“I guess it is kinda dumb” William conceded. “Still, Brian. I heard about what you did in the game Friday night and then right after that you save Cindy Sandy. It’s just hard for people to digest. Guess it’s like the grand mom lifting a car off a kid or something.”

“Exactly, I couldn’t do it again if I wanted to.”

“Well, you better hope you can repeat what you did Friday because don’t you have another big game this week?”

Brian looked at William but didn’t say anything. “Can we talk about our experiment today?”

“Sure, but I think we are ready” William answered, glancing under the table cloth to double check just as Ms. Othan was starting the experiments. After a few presentations it was finally William and Brian’s turn. They had practiced their routine in the form of an infomercial, purposely being as cheesy as possible.

“Anyone want ice cream?’ William started, and the class perked up, several saying ‘yes’ out loud.

“I scream for it” came a voice from the back of the room and everyone laughed.

“Okay, well, let’s dig into some ice cream” Brian said, rubbing his hands together before pulling back the table cloth, revealing a container of chocolate syrup, several quarts of heavy cream, pints of half and half, a pound of sugar, steel mixing bowl, wooding spoon, and whisk. The kids half stood to look, expecting to see ice cream ready to eat, quickly sitting back down when they saw there was none.

“Oh, hold on a second,” Brian continued, “We have to make it first.”

“Make it?” William added, feigning surprise. “How are we going to make enough ice cream to feed all these people?”

“Well, we have everything we need here” Brian said, waving his arm over the supplies on the table. “But, safety first” he added as he and William put on rubber gloves and safety goggles. “Brian, would you pass me that bowl” William continued, as dramatically as he could, and Brian slid the steel mixing bowl toward William.

“Everyone like chocolate?” Brian asked excitedly and the class all said ‘yes.’ “Great, so let’s start with heavy cream, William, pour that into the bowl” as William took the container and emptied the cream into the bowl. Brian and William repeated the routine with the half and half and sugar. “Finally, chocolate syrup” and as William added the final ingredient the anticipation in the classroom grew. “There is one final step, but we are going to need some help with this one who can help us?” Several kids raised their hands and Brian settled on Dave Rivers, sitting in the middle of the room, pointing to him and calling him up. Dave lowered his hand and hurried to the front of the room. “Put these on” Brian said, handing Dave a pair of goggles and rubber gloves. “Now, Dave, all you have to do is pour this into the bowl” Brian instructed as William handed him the liquid nitrogen. Dave took the container and held it over the bowl, hesitating a moment to look at Brain, who nodded his head for encouragement. “This is liquid nitrogen and it’s -356 below zero” Brian continued as the class murmured and looked at each other with excited expressions. As Dave poured the liquid nitrogen, the cold vapors flowed over the edge of the bowl, adding to the tension. “Pour it all” William said, and Dave happily obliged. Suddenly, the liquid nitrogen began to boil, and the class fell back slightly before moving back in to see what was happening.

“Thank you, Dave” Brian said, taking the container, gloves and goggles back from him. “This will be ready to serve in a few seconds, he continued, so William, why don’t you pass out the bowls and spoons.” William grabbed the stack of bowls and a handful of spoons, walking to the front of each row to hand them out to be passed along.

“You know what?” Brian said suddenly. “I think we have a problem William.”

William looked at Brian with a rehearsed puzzled expression. “What’s the problem?”

“Well, Brian said, I think Dave added too much liquid nitrogen to the ice cream” and the class groaned as they turned to look at Dave. “He told me to pour it all in” Dave said pointing at Brian as he defended himself. “Well,” Brian replied, banging the wooden spoon on top of the frozen solid ice cream. “Looks like we need another volunteer.”

Again, hands raised, and Brian pointed to Sarah, who quickly came to the front of the room, slipping on the goggles that Brian handed her. “Anyone like Dipping Dots?” Brian asked, and the class again all said ‘yes.’ “Well, these are like Dipping Dots, but William and I call them ‘smashing chunks’ Brian continued as William pulled an oversized wooden mallet out from under the table and handed it to Sarah. Brian covered the ice cream with clear plastic. “Everyone, goggles on please” and the entire class including Ms. Othan moved their goggles into place.

“Now, Sarah, be my guest” William said, pointing her to the bowl. “Smash away,” Brian added. Sarah smiled, raised the mallet, and quickly lowered it, smashing the rock-solid ice cream into tiny pieces. She smashed up and down several more times until Brian grabbed the mallet as she pulled it back for another swing. “Okay, not sure who’s head you’re imagining there” Brian joked, and the class laughed. Sarah smiled shyly then headed back to her seat. “Let’s have a look” Brian said as he pulled the plastic back. The bowl was filled with chunks of frozen chocolate ice cream. “Smashing chunks everybody,” and the class and Ms. Othan broke into applause. “Let’s eat” he added, as his classmates quickly lined up, spoons and bowls in hand, and Brian began doling out the scoops. He looked at William, and they both smiled. 

Brian dressed for practice just wanting to get the day over with. His first two classes, calculus and chemistry, had not been a precursor for the rest of the day, as there was little to no mention of Friday’s game or the Head Bridge. That changed starting third period, as everyone wanted to know either how Brian had managed to save Cindy Sandy from drowning or how he was able to jump as high as he did during the game, or both. Brian hated the attention, not the least because he had no answer for their questions. There was no way to tell them about his experiment with fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, and he wasn’t sure how he summoned the courage to jump into Valley Creek and pull Cindy Sandy out, other than by the strength of his new legs, which led him right back to square one. So, he said nothing beyond “I don’t know” or “not sure,” and most of the kids that approached him throughout the day hoping to hear a great story, left feeling like Brian was leaving out the best parts, which he was. And like all emerging legends, by last period the story had grown exponentially, the details now had Brian pulling Cindy Sandy, Skylar McCabe and Ed Gilmore from Valley Creek Friday night, after scoring 25 points and pulling down 20 rebounds against Westfield earlier in the evening. Brian was shocked at how out of hand the rumors had gotten, but not as shocked as when several of Brian’s friends had suggested he ask Cindy Sandy to prom next spring. So, Brian was actually glad to escape to basketball practice at the end of the day, practice being closed to all but those connected to the varsity or JV basketball teams or cheer squads. It was another irony in a month full of ironies. This morning he was hoping Mr. Bennett didn’t call on him in calculus, a first, but now he was actually glad to be escaping to basketball practice?  Brian tied his sneakers, his green Nike LeBron 16’s matching perfectly with his uniform. He remembered how his sneakers were such a focus at the first day of practice. Now, that was the last thing people were talking about when it came to Brian Ferco. ‘Time to practice’ he thought, and stood to head out to the gym floor when suddenly Woody walked in. He walked right up to Brian. “So, if it isn’t Brian Peffercorn.” Brian could feel the sarcasm under Woody’s sneer but didn’t say anything back. “Or maybe we should call you Brian Phelps.”

The rest of the locker room laughed but Woody didn’t even break a smile. “I heard about your stunt this weekend.”


“That’s right professor…stunt…like everything else you do. Like you being on this team. Just like…just like you wrecking the gym last year.”

“Wrecking the gym?”

“Yeah, with your Hurricane stunt.”

“Hurricane…?” Brian answered, puzzled. “You mean my science project, my Tornado Tester?”

“Tornado Tester? Listen professor, that tornado, or whatever it was you created, soaked the gym floor and warped the wood. We had to play our first playoff game at a neutral school and almost lost. We had no home court advantage thanks to you and your stunt.”

It never occurred to Brian that the damage he had caused to the gym floor last year had had such an impact. And he was equally horrified to learn that the other students, especially students like Woody, knew that he was the one who did it.

“That’s all you are Fercocorn” Woody continued. “A showman. And your phony heroics this weekend just proves it. What is it about you and water anyway Fercocorn?”

“Woody, I…”

“From what I’ve seen Fercocorn, you’re not a very good scientist, and you’re not a very good basketball player. You’re a geek with one freak skill. You can jump high. Big deal. You’re taking the spot on this team of a real athlete, someone with real basketball talent, someone who could actually help us win a title this year. No, we get a freak instead. Tell me something Fercocorn, where were you when Cindy Sandy fell?”

“Standing there watching her.”

“And you couldn’t see she was going to fall?”

“No, she just…fell.”

“More likely you saw she was going to fall and saw it as your opportunity. Let her fall then you could splash in and play hero, right?

Brian suddenly noticed the remaining players in the locker room had all stopped what they were doing.

 “Just do me a favor, Fercocorn. If I’m ever drowning, and you happen to rescue me, don’t give me mouth to mouth okay” and he broke into a loud laugh.

The rest of the team laughed too but Brian just grabbed his mouthpiece, shut his locker, and headed out to the gym floor. Woody was obviously unimpressed with heroics, at least those that involved Brian, and he took that as a que to not be too impressed with them himself. ‘I’m just going to practice and ignore all the other stuff’ he thought. Brian pushed open the locker room doors and walked into the gym, jogging out onto the floor to stretch before joining the shoot pre-practice shoot-around. Suddenly, someone started clapping and someone else said “it’s Brian.” The JV players, the cheerleaders, and even Brian’s Varsity teammates that were on the floor all stopped what they were doing and started applauding. Someone yelled “way to go Ferco” and others whistled or hooted. Completely embarrassed and unsure what to do, Brian smiled shyly and raised his hand up and down quickly as a sign of acknowledgement. Only one person wasn’t clapping or applauding. Woody Bear. He simply stood there with a basketball in his hands staring at Brian. Brian made brief eye contact with him, then turned away, picked up a ball and moved toward the basket to warm up.


Submitted: April 22, 2019

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