Summary: When Francine and the Lakewood ice hockey team lose an important game against Mighty Mountain, Francine takes it really hard. Will she be able to continue her sport or will her pride get in the way?
Can also be found here.
Francine was rushing to get to the puck. It was ice hockey season in Elwood City, a season Francine had looked forward to for the entire year. Her hockey gear felt like a second skin, and as she raced up the ice, all she could think of was the score: Lakewood 2, Mighty Mountain 4. There were three minutes left. She could get there if she tried hard enough, if time didn’t-
The horn sounded. Lakewood athletes froze on the ice. Might Mountain athletes exploded as they rushed to congratulate each other on their big win.
Francine dropped her stick. She looked up as saw the puck floating across the ice. It hit the boards, but you couldn’t hear the sound because of Might Mountain’s celebrations. Francine sighed, picking up her stick and skating over to Lakewood’s bench area.
“Great game, kids,” Francine’s dad, Oliver smiled, patting a fifth grader’s back before looking down to Francine. She was the only third grader on the team, and the only one who could call her coach “dad.” She was the only one he didn’t say anything to tonight. He simply patted her shoulder before gathering his things. It was time to pack up the locker room and return home to Elwood City as losers.
Francine was picking at her lunch with a long face. No one else in her class really followed hockey, and since Principal Haney didn’t mention the game during the morning announcements, the only one who knew Francine had lost was Francine herself. The other losers, a handful of fourth graders and another handful of fifth graders, weren’t looking like Francine. They didn’t have long faces; they planned on eating their lunch like normal when it came their time. But Francine was down and her classmates noticed.
“Do you think someone passed away?” Muffy whispered. Brain shook his head, “If they were that important to her, she would skip school,” he noted. Muffy sighed, “You’d think she’d tell me. I mean, I am her best friend.”
“Maybe she just doesn’t feel well,” Buster shrugged. “My mom is really sick right now with a stomach bug. I had to pack my own lunch!” Buster exclaimed, holding up a sandwich with way too many toppings…and pieces of bread…and well, way too much food for the normal third grader. The group eyed him as he used a string to make the sandwich tighter. A moment later, only that string remained. Arthur was so speechless he dropped his fork and had to get up for a new one.
“Well I think we should talk to her,” Muffy suggested, getting up and moving to Francine’s table. Before she could say anything, Francine looked up to her with defeated eyes, “I don’t want to talk about it. Please, just leave me alone.”
“I’m just trying to help! We’re best friends, Francine, and that’s what friends do!” Muffy cried. Francine shook her head, “We might be, but I’m not ready yet. Just go away.” “Fine!” Muffy huffed, storming back to her table. “She’s not talking to me! I’m your best friend, Francine Frensky! I thought that meant something to you!” Muffy yelled across the room. The noise caught Mrs. MacGrady’s attention, and she approached the table with a cleaning rag in her hand:
“What seems to be the problem here, Miss Crosswire?” she asked, following the children’s gazes to Francine. “Ah! I know what’s wrong with Francine. I’ll talk to her, but only when she’s ready. Sometimes the best way to be a best friend is to do things the best way for your friend instead of the right way,” Mrs. MacGrady winked.
Buster’s ears fell as he put his forehead on the table, “What does that even mean?!” he cried.
“She means that you sometimes have to defy logic to do the right thing for a friend. Francine needs to talk about what’s bothering her, but we can’t force her,” Brain explained, looking up to Muffy, whose arms were crossed as she stared angrily at her tray. “Muffy, are you going to give Francine the time she needs?”
“Sure, why not?” Muffy muttered, grabbing her tray as the dismissal bell rang. Brain wondered what Muffy’s tone meant, but he decided to ignore the girls’ problem. He felt a tingle over his body that said a Ratburn pop quiz was coming and he wanted to be ready.
Back in the classroom, Mr. Ratburn did indeed have a pop quiz. It was a sheet of multiplication facts, but he didn’t have enough for the class. He left the room to make copies, leaving the kids alone.
“I think Francine just doesn’t want to be my friend anymore,” Muffy said to Jenna. Jenna sighed, “I highly doubt that,” she said flatly. She wasn’t sitting at the same lunch table as Muffy, but she’d heard the entire issue and wished Muffy would simply keep quiet.
Muffy had other ideas, “Well what else could it be? She wouldn’t be here if someone died, or if she was really sick like Buster’s mom. She wouldn’t be here if it was a good reason! So she must not want to be my friend anymore.”
“Not everything is about you, Muffy,” Francine spat, standing up from her seat and silencing all other murmurs in the room. “You think you can control me, make me do whatever you want. Well what if I don’t want to talk? I have a good reason, but what do you care? Everything is about you, you, you, even when it is about me.
“So you know what, Muffy? I’ll tell you the truth: We lost a big game last night and no one cares! We played hard but we lost, but no one thinks there’s a problem with that. Well I do! You don’t lose a game then go home to forget about it! You figure out why you lost said game and what you can do to win next time!” Francine exclaimed.
“That’s a lovely speech, Miss Frensky, but I have an exam to pass out,” Mr. Ratburn called from the doorway. Francine blushed and sat down, but Muffy wasn’t finished, not yet.
“I have something to say, Francine,” Muffy said defiantly, standing up.
“Miss Crosswire, sit down,” Mr. Ratburn warned, stopping as he passed a pop quiz out to George.
“No! I want to defend myself!” Muffy cried.
“Principal Haney’s office, right this second Muffy. You were asked to sit down,” Mr. Ratburn sighed. He hated sending his students to the office, but he could sense that Muffy wasn’t going to drop this subject.
“Only if she goes with me!” Muffy hissed. Mr. Ratburn looked at Francine, who was staring forward waiting for the quiz to begin. Mr. Ratburn shook his head, “No, she obeyed orders. If you can’t sit down, you need to leave. You have until the count of-”
Mr. Ratburn didn’t have to start counting. Muffy ran out of the room with tears on her face. She went to Principal Haney’s office sobbing about how everyone was against her, even Francine. She missed the whole point of the visit, but the school day ended before they could get Francine’s side of the story. She went home with a long face, foregoing a trip to the Sugar Bowl with her friends. She went to her room, closed the door, and cried.
The next day, Francine was asked for her side of the story. She didn’t feel any better about things since the day before, and she was honest with the school counselor. She told her everything, and the counselor nodded before sighing softly.
“Muffy made it out like you fully attacked her in front of the entire class. I understand that Muffy is a dramatic soul who sees things a little differently than you and I,” the counselor winked. Francine nodded. “Do you think you did say something that could be seen as an attack?”
“Yes, but I felt like Muffy was being selfish. She didn’t care what was wrong with ME. She just cared about what that meant for HER,” Francine explained. The counselor nodded, “I gathered that as well. I’ve spoken with Mr. Ratburn and neither of you will be punished, but I think you need to talk things out with Muffy. Would you like to schedule a mediation session after school?” the counselor asked.
“I have hockey practice for the rest of the week,” Francine muttered, “not like it’ll help us much. Um…tomorrow afternoon. My dad’s the couch so he’ll understand.”
The counselor smiled, feeling she’d reached a breakthrough to mend a friendship. Instead, she was enabling Francine to run from her problems: She didn’t tell her father about the mediation session. She also didn’t go to that afternoon’s practice, choosing to “help” a teacher clean their boards instead. Her father noticed but said nothing that night. Would he say something the next night? Francine didn’t know, but she almost didn’t want to find out.
Francine didn’t feel any better when she left the mediation session. She decided to play along with Muffy, even riding with her to the mall to check out the latest winter fashions. As she stared blankly at hair ribbons, her father called to see where she was.
“I had a thing after school, Dad,” Francine sighed. But Oliver wasn’t born yesterday, “I hear music in the background. Where are you? You’re supposed to be at practice.”
“I don’t even know if I want to be on the team anymore, Dad. It’s fine. I’ll make it up tomorrow if you think I should play the last game,” Francine murmured. Oliver sighed, “Frankie, honey, you’re taking this loss pretty hard. Mighty Mountain is the best team in the region. They’re undefeated for the last three seasons. We’ve lost half our games since our team got started. It’s going to happen.”
“We had a chance, Dad,” Francine argued.
“No, they were better than us. Sometimes you have to accept that sometimes, even when you’re playing your best, you’re not going to win the game. It’s that simple,” Oliver said firmly. “Our last game is against Clearview Elementary. They’re undefeated this season, but if you can’t handle it-”
“Clearview is undefeated? They lost every game last season!” Francine hissed. “I’ll be there!”
“Well this practice is over-Francine?” Oliver called. Francine had ended her call early, and a few minutes later, she showed up to the empty rink with her gear. Her father stared at her, but when he saw the determination in her eyes, he started calling out drills and pulling out practice gear again.
Muffy, who had Bailey drive them to the rink, watched from the stands with Bailey at her side. She’d never seen such a thing either, but now she wanted to see more. She’d go to the next game, she told Bailey, and she’d finally support her friend.
“GGGooooodddd evening, Grebes!” the announcer called. Clearview Elementary was another elementary school in Elwood City, and their mascot was the grebe. This was a home game for them, but Muffy and several others from Lakewood made the trip across town to support their team. It was the first time all season, and the athletes seemed to feel the difference.
“What, goal?!” the second announcer cried. Only thirty seconds into the first period, one of Lakewood’s team members scored a goal. The entire game felt like the perfect win. Francine scored the second goal and assisted with a third-and that was just in the first period.
Clearview still had no goals, but Francine noticed they were still happy. No one was slapping the ice with their hockey stick when the ref wasn’t looking or getting pep talks from their coach. They were…fine with losing.
As the game progressed, the score only grew ever more one-sided. Francine scored a second goal and then a third. They were approaching ten goals when the ref decided to approach Clearview about forfeiting the game. Francine watched as the happy-looking man refused; he said his players were simply having too much fun.
Francine’s mouth hung open as she looked up to her father, “You lied to me. They’ve lost every game they ever played!” Francine whispered. Oliver nodded, “They have, but look at how much fun they’re having. You should remember that.”
Francine was shocked. She didn’t want to win this way either. She asked to be pulled from the game. Oliver wanted a reason, so Francine pointed to her leg. She’d injured it earlier in the season, so she knew how to act as she took her seat.
Above her, Lakewood’s supporters screamed and cheered, happy for every goal. Surprisingly, Clearview’s supporters cheered just as loudly for the same reason. Francine watched, dumbfounded at this entire spectacle. How could they be okay with losing by over ten goals?
But in the third and final period, Francine watched as two of Lakewood’s fourth graders lost control of the puck. Several Clearview players were nearby, and they started racing with the puck towards their goal. Lakewood’s players couldn’t keep up, and with five seconds to go, the horn sounded:
“GGGOOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!” the announcers exploded in unison.
The rink exploded with cheers, including from Lakewood’s players. Celebrations took over the ice, and the ref had no choice but to call the game: Clearview’s players were celebrating as if they’d won the Stanley Cup!
On the way home, Francine admitted to Muffy and her father that she’d taken the loss to Might Mountain too harshly. Oliver didn’t agree, and Muffy smartly did the same. Francine had learned her lesson-that sports were supposed to be fun-and life continued a little bit sweeter than before.
Theme 104: Losing
This is my first response to a theme list I started called the “Infinite Arthur Theme List.” The list includes 200 themes, but you can add many, many more. I created the current ones with Arthur in mind, including an entire science fiction category for Buster:) If you’d like to participate, let me know.
Also, I’m a hockey novice, so if I got any of the words wrong, will someone correct me? Thanks.