The Trouble With Gavin, Chapter 5: Math Blues

Uncle Jaden, who is Gavin’s age, suggests they try smoking some homemade cigarettes. After coughing and choking through the experiment, Grandma Kay catches on to what they’ve been doing. What will she do?
Grandma began clucking her tongue. “He had a friend who persisted with the filthy habit. He tarred up his lungs something fierce, and died young.” Grandma shot a look at each of them over her glasses. “Sure hope you boys never do something as foolish as that,”
“Uh, yes ma’am,” they both mumbled in agreement.
“Hey, you ready for a swim?” Jaden asked Gavin suddenly.
“Am I ever!” Gavin’s eyes lit up.
Racing down to the water, the boys charged into the creek. Water flew everywhere. The cold water enveloped Gavin as he dove in. When he surfaced, Gavin hoped the tobacco smell was washed away—for good. Why did it seem so many of his adventures turned into disasters? How could he make better choices?
It was Monday morning. The class bell would ring any minute. Leaping up two steps at a time, Gavin slid into his desk.
“Turn in your papers,” Mr. Saunders, his math teacher, announced shortly after class started.
Gavin reached into his backpack. His homework paper was stuffed into his math book. He glanced at it and groaned. He’d forgotten to finish those last nine problems. Oh well, he didn’t understand the first 21 problems. He’d probably have missed the last nine, too. Whatever. He handed his paper to Mr. Saunders.
While Mr. Saunders filled the white board with division problems, Gavin examined the plastic ruler he’d pulled from the cereal box yesterday. It was so cool. It changed designs with every angle of the light. When he looked through it, everything looked hot pink. He fascinated himself with it completely until Mr. Saunders’ explanation was over.
“Your assignment is page 78, all the odd problems,” Mr. Saunders voice was
Gavin flipped to the page and stared at the title. “Dividing Four-Digit Dividends” he read. It would help if I knew what the “Dividend” was. He sighed and pulled a clean sheet of paper from his notebook. He looked around the room. Heads were bent. Pencils were moving. Why did everybody else seem to understand how to do it?
After school he handed Mom his grade report as he walked toward the door.  Although Gavin was hurrying, he was not fast enough.
“Where are you going, Gavin?” Mom’s voice caught him. “You’ll have to face your father tonight,” she said ominously, her eyes still studying his grade card. “He expects more from you than this.”
Instantly Gavin’s hand froze to the doorknob. He pondered just what he would face. Then with a firm grip, he opened the door. Dessert first, he mumbled under his breath. Yes, dessert first. If he was going to have to face something unpleasant, he might as well throw some football first.
Later that evening as he finished his meal at the table, Gavin hoped somehow that Mom would forget to mention his grades. But when Dad wiped his mouth with his napkin at the end of supper, she lowered the boom.
“Here are your son’s grades,” she handed the grade card to Dad.
Dad’s eyes scanned the report. He completely missed the “A” in PE, but zeroed-in on the “D” in math with amazing accuracy.
“What kind of a grade is this?” he boomed. Gavin wasn’t sure, but it seemed that his chair moved just a little with the small explosion.
“I don’t understand it,” he offered weakly.
Dad’s solutions were always simple.
“You will when I get done explaining it to you. We’ll start with ten problems,” Dad pushed his chair away from the table. When he returned to the kitchen, he had a notepad and pencil. “Get your book.”
Somehow, Gavin’s wandering attention half-way back in Mr. Saunder’s class was focused and clear with Dad right beside him at the kitchen table. Their pencils scratched problems for the next 66 minutes. Dad finally leaned back in his chair.
“You’ll need to practice your division every day when you get home from school,” Dad said.
“I have some flash cards!” Lindsey piped up helpfully. Gavin glared at her.
“I think I already know what one plus one is,” he snapped. Lindsey made a face.
“And of course,” Dad finished as he sat down with the newspaper, “you’ll do your homework before I get home for supper.” Gavin thought of mentioning that after school was his football practice time with David, but he decided against it.
“Yes, sir,” Gavin’s shoulders sagged. He looked accusingly at his math book  Why couldn’t it just fall off a cliff somewhere?
It was a long week, but finally Sunday arrived. He went to Jaden’s and found him in his room.
“What’s happening?” Gavin asked sinking down into a bean bag.
“Hey, Gavin!” Jaden grinned. “I was just feeling like a game of Stretch. You up to it?”
“I’m ready,” Gavin said confidently.
Stretch was a game the boys played with knives. One would throw the knife into the ground. The other guy would have to stretch to get it while only moving one foot. Each throw would challenge the opponent until someone couldn’t reach the knife or would fall over trying to get it. Jaden handed Gavin a knife, and they went outside.
Mom was always interested in his outdoor adventures, and Gavin enjoyed describing them to her later. But somehow, he’d never gotten around to telling her about Stretch.  He had a funny feeling she wouldn’t approve of this game and some of the other dare-games Jaden had taught him. But Moms just worry too much, Gavin reasoned. His heart began to race as Jaden drew a line where they’d both stand. He couldn’t wait to pit his knife-throwing skill against Jaden’s.
Gavin balanced the blade snuggly in his fingertips as he aimed and released the first throw.
Fffft. The shiny blade sank into the patch of grass to the left.
“Let’s see you get that one,” he gloated.
Without a word, Jaden slowly leaned over, stretching, and grasped the handle of the knife. He worked himself back up and turned grinning to Gavin.
“Alright, here’s yours,” he challenged releasing his knife with a quick flick of his wrist. The knife sank neatly into the grass.
Back and forth they took turns. The sun’s warmth was beginning to penetrate their arms. Gavin’s last throw remained just out of his reach, and Jaden finally had to admit defeat.
“Eehaw!” Gavin hollered and went to retrieve his knife.
“I’m tired of this,” Jaden said. “Let’s go down to the creek for a swim.”
“Hey, I’m not ready to quit!” Gavin objected.
But Jaden was already starting down toward the water. Gavin fumed to himself.
Jaden always wants to quit when he’s losing. It’s not fair!
Suddenly an idea flashed into his mind. He smiled. I’ll give him a good scare.
Unfortunately, Gavin didn’t take any time to let his idea percolate through his cerebrum. (That’s the part of the brain where we draw on our “good sense”.)
Carefully aiming his knife to the right of Jaden’s retreating form, Gavin let the knife fly. Then in disbelief, he watched as the knife found its mark, not to the right of Jaden, as planned, but square in the middle of his back!
This can’t be happening! Gavin’s mind screamed as the action went into slow motion.
Jaden yelled as he stopped short, and his arms sprang out to his sides. His knees crumpled, and he began to fall backwards on top of the knife that was sticking into his back!

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The Trouble With Gavin, Chapter 5: Math Blues

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